What Is Native American Day?

By | November 1, 2016

Americans observe the significance of its’ Native American heritage on a number of days of the year depending on where they live in the U.S. 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.

What Is Native American Day

Different Day, Same Meaning!

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.

Indigenous people will gather at markets which are called pow-wows. During these pow-wows there is dancing, singing and socializing.

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Special Dates:

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

Credit:   Ancestry

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.

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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

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.

My Final Thoughts

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.

Further Information!

Why not head on over to Wikipedia to get more information on this special day!

Thank You and Please Leave A Comment

I hope you enjoyed this article regarding what is Native American Day is all about. If you think that this post will be helpful to others then please share it with friends and family using the social media buttons below.

If you have any questions or comments then please leave a comment below. I would love to hear from you.

Author: Owain

Hello, Owain here. After researching my family history for a number of years I wanted to give back to the genealogy world. So here you will find guides, tips and product reviews that will help you on your genealogy journey.

10 thoughts on “What Is Native American Day?

  1. Craig | UK TV Services Abroad

    Hi Owain,

    This is a great article, loved your story of Red Fox James. Can you imagine riding to 24 States. I lived in TX for a couple of years back around 203 but didn’t come across any native Indian tribes or reservations. However, when I was in Alberta, Canada I did have the fortune of visiting a couple of reservations. Is that what they are called? I think so. Anyway, I found it fascinating. I love this kind of history and your images are pretty awesome.

    Here’s an interesting fact about Columbus. He landed in 1492 and was the first to discover the New World and also maize corn. America was the only place it grew apparently so most people agree that CC discovered the New World of America. However, in Scotland, just outside Edinburgh there is a chapel called Roslyn Chapel. This chapel was built by the Knights Templar (also famous in USA I’m sure you know). The KT fled France in 1314 after the Pope ordered them to be disbanded. It’s not known how many of them got away but they were rumored to have fled to Spain and Portugal initially.

    Inside Roslyn Chapel you will find many sculptures. Roslyn Chapel was built from 1400 – 1440. One of the sculptures inside is of maize corn. Gripping?

    Keep up the good work pal, love your site.

    1. Owain Post author

      Thank you for your comment and your interesting facts. Yes you are right about reservations. Glad you enjoyed the post. Thanks again.

  2. Dan

    Very interesting read. You really broke down and explained Native American day. I did not know Native American Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Heritage Day were pretty much the same just called different things and celebrated on slightly different dates in different places. Very nice sight you have here. I will be coming back. Keep up the great information.

    1. Owain Post author

      Glad that I explained it clearly for you. It was a very interesting topic for me to cover.

  3. Sharon Cowie

    Hi Owain, wow, this is a very informative and interesting post. I live in Australia and totally respect cultural diversity and celebrating it. The native Americans have made such a solid contribution and all Americans should celebrate and honour this. Great job Owain!

    1. Owain Post author

      I also respect cultural diversity. Native Americans have contributed significantly to America as it is the today. The same can also be said for the indigenous population of Australia.

  4. Rachel

    I really enjoyed reading about native american day! Such interesting information. I am excited to sit and read this to my kids! Thanks for a gread read!

    1. Owain Post author

      Thanks Rachel for your comment. Please do read to your kids. Would appreciate it if you could share with other families.

  5. Dawn

    I’ve been under a rock and SUPER late! I didn’t know that the WHOLE month was dedicated to Native American Heritage. This is awesome! There are Cherokee and Blackfoot Indian ancestry in my family, so this celebration would be a nice topic to bring up with my family. I honestly need to learn MORE about my family heritage in general. So much to cover.

    1. Owain Post author

      Better late than never, lol. At least the month is not over and you can celebrate your Native American roots.


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