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Five Ways to Celebrate National Native American History Month

Updated: Mar 16, 2022

Honor the Cultures of Indigenous Peoples of Turtle Island

National atlas. Indian tribes, cultures & languages : [United States] LoC
National atlas. Indian tribes, cultures & languages : [United States] Library of Congress

No, Columbus did not “discover the America” in 1942, nor were the Pilgrims who landed at Plymouth Rock in 1620 were the first in the the land we now call the “United States." The Vikings who arrived in North American in 1021 may have been first Europeans to set foot in the Americas, however, people have been living in this part of the world for tens of thousands of years before the Vikings landed Newfoundland, Canada. Research now shows that people have been living and dating back to at least 33,000 years. This is more than twice as long as previously thought!

The peoples of the land we now commonly call “the Americas” are diverse with rich artistic, cultural, linguistic, and religious traditions, from Eastern Woodlands to the Plains and theGreat Basin to the Southwest to the Northwest Coast and California. The history of the United States can not be understood without recognizing the peoples who have been living in this land for tens of thousands of years before European conquest. To honor the “First Americans,” Dr. Arthur C. Parker (April 5, 1881 – January 1, 1955), an archaeologist, historian, and folklorist of Seneca and Scots-Irish descent, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans.” In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawerence, KS, formally approved a plan for “American Indian Day.” Its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, issued a proclamation on Sept. 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day. It also contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Native Americas as U.S. citizens. (Native Americans were not granted citizenship until June 2, 1924 despite their generational ties to this land!)

American Indian Day was first recognized on the state level. With the governor of New York declaring the second Saturday in May 1916. Several states, including Illinois in 1919, declared the fourth Friday in September. Today, it is celebrated across the United States on the second Monday in October, and in 2021, President Biden became the first U.S. President to formally recognize the holiday with an official proclamation given on Oct. 8. 2021. In 1990, President George Bush, Sr. approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued by the U.S. president annually since 1994.

As it is essential the Indigenous peoples tell their stories about themselves and their history and culture and because the arts and cultures of the Americas are so diverse, rather than give a biography of a select group of artists, musical instruments, or artistic styles, I wish to share with you a list of ways to help you to discover more for yourself. Here are five questions to get you (and your kids or students) to think about, recognize, celebrate, and honor the many indigenous peoples of the U.S. and their cultures:

1. Discover On Whose Land You Live

Visit Native Land to learn the peoples who have historically lived in, treaties tha