Americans observe the significance of its Native American heritage on a number of days of the year. But what is Native American Day all about? Did you even know that there is even a whole month set aside to mark its native history. Read on as I explain all about this day, how it began and when can you celebrate this special day.
The names of these days may differ but their intent is very much the same. These days are set aside so that Americans can show their appreciation of the culture and contributions of the First Americans.
Native American Day focuses on the background, culture and traditions of the Native Americans. It is a day where both native and non-natives cultures can unite and so their cultures can be shared. Markets are held there are gatherings of the indigenous people that are called pow-wows. During these pow-wows there is dancing, singing and socializing.
Native American Day – California (4th Friday in September); South Dakota (2nd Monday in October); Tennessee (4th Monday in September)
Indigenous Peoples’ Day – Alaska; Berkeley, California; Denver; Colorado; Minnesota; Vermont; Washington (2nd Monday in October)
Native American Heritage Day – Friday following Thanksgiving
National American Indian Heritage Month / Native American Heritage Month – November
When Did Native American Day Start?
Native American Day or Native Americans Day is celebrated by a number of states either at the end of September or the beginning of October. It is a day to honor, recognize and appreciate the rich cultural heritage and significant contributions of the indigenous people.
Arthur Caswell Parker, doctor and Indian
This day was proposed by Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker who was a Cattaraugus Seneca Indian. He was a historian, anthropologist and a writer from New York State. He was also the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York.
His great uncle was secretary to President Ulysses S. Grant and served as a Commissioner of Indian Affairs for the Department of the Interior.
Dr. Parker was responsible for founding the National Congress of American Indians, an Indian rights organization. With persuasion from Parker the Boy Scouts of America set aside a day to remember “First Americans” from 1912 to 1915.
Then in 1916 the second Saturday of May was designated as American Indian Day by the New York governor. The state of Illinois followed suit in 1919. Then by 1935 the governor of Massachusetts proclaimed that this day would be set aside every year.
President Ford in 1976 proclaimed a week in October as Native American Awareness Week. From then on the President and Congress have observed a day, week and a month for its rich indigenous past.
The Controversy of Columbus
The Columbus Day national holiday was renamed to Native American Day by South Dakota in 1989. This state is home to nine Indian tribes. Educational classes are put on which focus on the history, culture and traditions of the indigenous people.
Columbus Day remembers Christopher Columbus’s arrival to the Americas back in 1492 on October 12th. This is celebrated on the second Monday of October and is somewhat controversial as it marks the demise of the indigenous population. When the Europeans arrived the whole of North America had already been populated by the natives.
The city of Berkeley in California followed South Dakota in 1992 and stopped celebrating Columbus Day in favor of its Native American past. They renamed this day as Indigenous People’s Day. Two years later the state of Tennessee established the fourth Monday in September as American Indian Day.
Previously in 1968 the Governor of California Ronald Regan declared that American Indian Day would be celebrated on the fourth Friday in September. Then in 1998 this day was named Native American Day and was declared that it would be an official holiday.
Native American Heritage Day and Month
Native American Heritage Day is also referred to as American Indian Heritage Day. President George W Bush designated the Friday following Thanksgiving in the United States.
Horseback rider Red Fox James
The origin of this day goes back to 1914. A Blackfoot Indian by the name of Red Fox James rode horseback to 24 states. He sought endorsement from these states to get support for a national day for America to remember its Native Americans.
Then the following year he rode to the White House and presented these endorsements.
Similar to Native American Day classes, programs and ceremonies are put to educate people about this special day. Not only are people educated about the significance of America’s native population on this day but also the relationship between the US government and Native American governments is observed.
Elementary and secondary schools are encouraged to educate the students about the history and contributions of Native Americans. This is conducted by various activities.
George’s father President George H.W. Bush designated in 1990 that the month of November would be National American Indian Heritage Month. It is a month to honor the remaining Native Americans who have survived the tumultuous past when Europeans first landed on their shores.
And recently in 2015 President Barack Obama proclaimed that November would be National Native American Heritage Month.
Whether it is called Native American Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Heritage Day the meaning behind this special event is the same. It is a day to celebrate the history and the contributions that the native population has given to the United States.
They have made significant contributions in areas such as agriculture, art, language, medicine and music. They have become entrepreneurs, inventors, scholars and spiritual leaders. I therefore believe that it is important to show our appreciation and work together to make a stronger, united America.
To show our appreciation we can attend the markets and join in with the singing and dancing. We can hear their stories and learn from them about their culture and their history. From these pow-wows hopefully we can learn to respect one another and living together in harmony.
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