Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month: Opportunities to Get Involved

Native American Heritage Month celebrated each November, is an opportunity to honor the rich histories, diverse cultures, and significant contributions of Indigenous peoples in the United States. President George H.W. Bush first designated this annual observance in 1990. 

Education opportunities abound that explore the vibrant traditions and cultural heritage of Native Americans, Native Hawaiians, and Alaska Natives during this month-long celebration. It also raises awareness about their unique challenges, both historically and in modern times. 

Cultural presentations, educational workshops, and art exhibits offer opportunities for people from all walks of life to learn more about our Native American Heritage and engage in meaningful conversations. Find out more about this observance, why it remains essential, and how you can get involved.

Featured in: November - Awareness Months, Days & Observances.

Native American Heritage Month’s History and Background

Lakota Native American Man at Pow Wow
Photo by Andrew James on Unsplash

The origins of Native American Heritage Month date back to the early 20th century, when Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, passionately advocated for the establishment of an American Indian Day. In response, New York became the first state to observe American Indian Day in May 1916 officially.

As enthusiasm for recognizing Native American heritage grew, President Ronald Reagan proclaimed November 23-30 as "American Indian Week" in 1986. This important milestone celebrated indigenous communities' cultural impact and diversity nationwide.

In 1990, the commemoration expanded into a month-long celebration, as President George H.W. Bush signed a joint resolution designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. 

Since 1994, U.S. Presidents have been reaffirming November as National Native American Heritage Month, recognizing the invaluable contributions of Native Americans to our nation's history and culture and inspiring future leaders to follow their lead. In 2009, President Obama took a significant step forward by signing the Native American Heritage Day Resolution, which dedicated the day after Thanksgiving to this important cause.

Established in 2004, The National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C.,  celebrates the life, languages, literature, history, and arts of Native American communities. National American Heritage Month and others have helped ensure this achievement, providing a platform to tell their stories. 

Additionally, in 2013, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed a resolution that encouraged educational and cultural activities during November to honor and appreciate the diverse range of Native American contributions to society.

The Cause and Its Challenges

2 tee pees
Photo by MJ Tangonan on Unsplash

Native American Heritage Month honors and celebrates the rich cultural legacy of Indigenous peoples while also bringing attention to their unique challenges. 

As we observe National Native American Heritage Month, it is important to acknowledge and appreciate the contributions of Indigenous peoples both historically and in modern times. We must also commit ourselves to respecting Tribal sovereignty, promoting self-determination among Tribal Nations, and fulfilling our nation's obligations and promises to these communities as outlined in our treaties.

This observance aims to increase public awareness about the diverse and intricate histories of Native American tribes. By debunking stereotypes and fostering understanding among people from different cultural backgrounds, Native American Heritage Month shares stories, traditions, and history. In doing so, it supports the resilience of Native American communities and promotes the preservation of their valuable contributions to society.

Despite their rich cultural heritage, Native Americans face numerous challenges, often rooted in historical trauma, systemic racism, and disparities across various aspects of life. 

Did you know that poverty is a major issue among Native American communities? The poverty rate in these communities is 25.4%, which is more than double the national average of 10.5%. Indigenous populations have an unemployment rate of 7.8%, while the national average is only 3.9%. These statistics show the economic struggles faced by these communities.

In addition to economic hardships, Native Americans confront significant health disparities1. Many of America’s indigenous peoples experience higher rates of diabetes, obesity, and substance abuse than other racial and ethnic groups. 

The challenges extend to the educational sphere, where Native American youth face the highest dropout rate of any demographic. Sadly, the loss of land and natural resources has only exacerbated these issues, profoundly impacting the cultural identity and economic stability of many tribes. 

3 Important Facts To Note this Native American Heritage Month

  • Recognizing the value of indigenous languages, a key focus of this heritage month is to encourage their preservation and revitalization. With many of these languages teetering on the brink of extinction2, some even having just a handful of speakers left, the need for support and action is critical.
  • Protecting sacred sites, natural resources, and tribal sovereignty cannot be overstated. Native American Heritage Month raises awareness of the ongoing struggles for indigenous rights, emphasizing the need to respect and safeguard the unique traditions and lands these communities hold dear.
  • Finally, this observance offers a platform for all Americans to learn about and engage with indigenous cultures. By promoting cross-cultural understanding, mutual respect and fostering a deeper appreciation for the country's first inhabitants, Native American Heritage Month contributes to a more inclusive society.

Read more: Equality and diversity facts

Efforts and Initiatives

The First Nations Development Institute is one key organization that dedicates its efforts to preserving and promoting Native American heritage, providing crucial financial and technical assistance to Native American groups. By focusing on economic development, cultural preservation, and food sovereignty projects, the Institute leaves an enduring, positive impact on Indigenous lives.

The National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI) aims to promote the history, culture, and current issues of Native Americans. Visitors can gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of Indigenous peoples through its exhibitions and educational programs. During Native American Heritage Month, the museum hosts various events and activities to celebrate and raise awareness of Indigenous cultures. It serves as a platform for promoting nationwide recognition and appreciation of Indigenous cultures.

The preservation of native cultural heritage and the celebration of tribal cultures are at the forefront of the National Park Service's efforts as they work closely with Indigenous communities. As part of their collaboration, the National Park Service is also partnering to facilitate the direct sale and purchase of artwork created by Indigenous artists. This is a great way to honor and support the talented individuals who have contributed to the richness and diversity of Indigenous cultures.

An excellent example of a successful grassroots initiative is the annual Rock Your Mocs social media campaign during Native American Heritage Month. Participants wear moccasins or other traditional footwear to honor Indigenous cultures, and they share their support on social media platforms. With widespread participation, Rock Your Mocs proves the power of community-driven efforts in celebrating Native American heritage worldwide.

How to Get Involved and Support the Cause

2 native Americans playing instruments
Photo by Gabriela Custódio da Silva

A fantastic way to dive into Native American Heritage Month is by joining local events, such as vibrant cultural festivals, art exhibits, and educational workshops. Immersing yourself in these gatherings is a great opportunity not only to gain invaluable insight into Native American communities but also to contribute to the cultural exchange. When you attend these events, remember that your presence supports the tireless efforts of local tribes and organizations striving to preserve their rich heritage.

One way to pay tribute to the admirable military service of Native Americans is to participate in the official dedication ceremony of the National Native American Veterans Memorial at the Smithsonian in Washington, DC. This event will feature a procession to honor the brave veterans and their loved ones, including those from American Indian, Alaska Native, and Native Hawaiian communities.

Keep an eye out for The Native Cinema Showcase if you're a fan of movies. This celebration of the top Indigenous films typically takes place during the third week of November and is worth checking out.

Besides exploring events in person, consider spreading the word about Native American history and contemporary issues through social media. Get creative in sharing educational content that celebrates the rich and diverse cultures of native peoples and use relevant hashtags like #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth and #NAHM to amplify the voices of Native American activists, scholars, and artists. You might like to find inspiration from our equality and diversity quotes

You can also read up and explore the vast range of books and documentaries and follow Native American experts online – you'll soon discover the vast wealth of information about the diverse Native American cultures.

Lastly, remember that volunteering and fundraising are crucial in supporting the cause. If you're eager to contribute, lend your time and skills to Native American community organizations, schools, or cultural centers. And don't forget about donations: Native American-led nonprofits and charities rely on financial support to continue their vital work in areas like land rights, education, and cultural preservation. These include the Native American Rights Fund and the American Indian College Fund,

Conclusion

In wrapping up, we recognize Native American Heritage Month as a vital celebration highlighting Indigenous communities' deep-rooted influence in our collective story. It is essential to honor their resilience and cultural wealth and dismantle the stereotypes surrounding these communities, paving the way for appreciation and understanding.

Seize this opportunity to learn and engage with the rich tapestry of Native American heritage. Attend cultural events that showcase vibrant traditional practices, advocate for policies that empower Indigenous peoples, and support organizations committed to their well-being. 

Native American Heritage Month FAQs

1. What is Native American Heritage Month?

Native American Heritage Month is a month-long celebration in the United States that honors the history, culture, and contributions of Native American people.

2. Why is Native American Heritage Month important?

Native American Heritage Month is important because it recognizes and celebrates the rich cultural heritage and contributions of Native American people, while also raising awareness about the challenges and issues that affect Native American communities.

3. When is Native American Heritage Month celebrated?

Native American Heritage Month is celebrated every November in the United States.

4. How can I get involved in supporting Native American Heritage Month?

There are many ways to get involved in supporting Native American Heritage Month, such as attending local events, supporting Native American-owned businesses, donating to organizations that support Native American causes, and educating yourself about Native American history and culture.

5. What are some common misconceptions about Native American people?

Some common misconceptions about Native American people include the belief that they are a monolithic group with a single culture and language, that they all live on reservations, and that they receive special privileges or benefits from the government. In reality, Native American people are incredibly diverse, with many different languages, cultures, and traditions, and they face a range of challenges and issues, including poverty, discrimination, and the ongoing effects of colonialism.

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1

Whitbeck, L. B., Walls, M. L., & Welch, M. L. (2012). Substance abuse prevention in American Indian and Alaska native communitiesThe American Journal of Drug and Alcohol Abuse, 38(5), 428–435. 

2

Crawford, James. (2013). Endangered Native American Languages: What is to be Done, and Why?. Bilingual Research Journal: The Journal of the National Association for Bilingual Education. 19. 10.1080/15235882.1995.10668589.

Photo by Daniel Lloyd Blunk-Fernández on Unsplash
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