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American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month

American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage MonthWith the theme, Celebrating our Strengths, we acknowledge the various Tribal cultures and the rich heritage, art, history, and traditions of the American Indian and Alaska Native People. This year is particularly exciting with the opening of the National Museum of the American Indian. The opening of the museum offers an opportunity for the public to learn more about the cultures and traditions of the Native Americans from North, Central, and South America.

What began at the turn of the century as an effort to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the First Americans made to the establishment and growth of the United States has resulted in the month of November being designated for that purpose.

Early Proponents

One of the early proponents of an American Indian Day was Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian who was the Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York. He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the "First Americans," and for three years the Scouts adopted such a day. In 1915, at the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, a plan celebrating American Indian Day was formally approved. The Association directed its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, to call upon the country to set aside a day of recognition. Rev. Coolidge issued a proclamation on September 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of May as American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of American Indians as citizens.

The year before this proclamation was issued, Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode horseback from state to state, seeking approval for a day to honor American Indians. On December 14, 1915, Red Fox James presented the endorsements of 24 state governments to the White House. There is no record, however, of such a national day being proclaimed.

State Celebrations

The first American Indian Day to be celebrated in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any legal recognition as a national holiday.

Heritage Months

In 1990 President George Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994.

National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month is celebrated to recognize the intertribal cultures and to educate the public about the heritage, history, art, and traditions of the American Indian and Alaska Native people. The Creation of National American Indian & Alaska Native Heritage Month A Brief History Source: Department of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs

Partners in celebration:

Celebrating National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month 2004 in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area is accomplished through coalitions of Federal Departments and agencies, local government offices, and national and local organizations, as well as interested individuals. This collaboration is a way for these organizations to network and assist one another in developing programs that can be shared and replicated throughout the month of November to recognize American Indian and Alaska Native contributions to the development and history of the United States of America. Members of one of the coalitions include:


  • Office of the Secretary
  • Assistant Secretary for Health
  • Office of Minority Health
  • Program Support Center
  • Administration on Aging
  • Administration for Children and Families
  • Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
  • Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry
  • Food and Drug Administration
  • Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services
  • Health Resources and Services Administration
  • Indian Health Service
  • National Institutes of Health
  • National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute
  • National Institute on Drug Abuse
  • Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration

Collaborating Heritage Partners

  • American Indian Society of Washington, D.C.
  • City of Rockville, Maryland
  • Department of the Air Force/Bolling Air Force Base
  • Department of the Army/Walter Reed Army Medical Center
  • Department of Education
  • Department of the Interior/Bureau of Indian Affairs
  • District of Columbia
  • Department of Veterans Affairs
  • Environmental Protection Agency
  • Federal Emergency Management Agency
  • International Broadcasting Bureau
  • Montgomery County -Title 9, American Indian Education Program
  • Montgomery County Department of Public Libraries
  • Montgomery County Offices of the County Executive
  • Smithsonian Institution
  • United States Small Business Administration

More Information:


Additional Topics
* Native American Fact Sheet (PDF)
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