November is National Native American Heritage Month across the US and the perfect opportunity to celebrate Native American culture and communities, educate ourselves about these traditional owners of the land we call home, and participate in their culture in respectful, engaging ways.
National Native American Heritage Month started as a single day of recognition and has grown into an entire month dedicated to recognizing the significant contributions first Americans have made to the establishment and growth of the US.
The History of National Native American Heritage Month
Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian and director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y., is credited as one of the first to initiate a day acknowledging Native Americans in the early 1910s.
He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for “First Americans,” and three years later, in 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association formally approved a plan for an American Indian Day. The president of the association at the time, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, proclaimed on the 28th of September of the same year, declaring the second Saturday in May as an American Indian Day.
The governor of New York declared the first American Indian Day in May 1916. Other states declared and celebrated a similar day in September.
In 1990 President George Bush approved a resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month.
5 Ways to Celebrate, Educate & Participate in National Native American Heritage Month
There are so many ways to celebrate this month and discover all the incredible contributions of Native Americans throughout the history of the US. Here are just five to help you get started:
1. Learn About the Native American Code Talkers
Hundreds of American Indians joined the United States armed forces during World War I and World War II. They used words from their traditional tribal languages as weapons. Some were recruited by the military specifically to help develop secret battle communications – others found each other during the war and began to informally use their languages to evade the enemy.
They became known as ‘Code Talkers’ after World War II and are widely acknowledged as heroes who significantly aided victories throughout the war.
2. Experience Some Contemporary Indigenous Art
Art has long played an essential role in how different cultures share their stories, narratives, languages, histories, and values. Art is vital for helping us to understand other perspectives and develop our awareness of the experiences and ongoing traumas of Native American people.
There are many permanent and special exhibitions around the US dedicated to Indigenous contemporary artists, and it’s worth exploring as many as you can this month – and all year round.
3. Discover the Cherokee Phoenix
The Cherokee Phoenix was the very first newspaper published by and for Native Americans in the United States – it was also the first newspaper to be printed entirely in the Cherokee language.
The Cherokee language is a unique system called a syllabary. It uses symbols to represent syllables instead of letters and is fascinating to study.
- Honor Native American Women & Their Contributions
Women have long been overlooked throughout the history of societies worldwide, and Indigenous and Native American women are sadly more overlooked than most.
An incredible collection of objects and images from the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian highlights the stories of some of these women, celebrating and honoring the determination and creativity they used to defend their rights and have a voice.
You can view some of the collections online.
5. Understand the Importance of Bison as a Cultural Symbol
Bison have been integral to Native American culture, livelihood, and survival. For centuries, Native Americans hunted them as a key source of sustenance for entire communities. Every part of the animal was used for a purpose, with nothing going to waste.
Bison remain a valuable symbol of resourcefulness and respect in Native American culture, representing their deep connection to nature and their land – and the importance of working with our natural world for sustainability.
Where to Find Out More
The National Native American Heritage Month website has many resources and links to further information, making perfect starting points if you’re keen to keep exploring and learning.
Some other great websites to check include: