A Quick History of Native American Heritage Month
For a long time and for many people, November meant the smell of pumpkin pie, the re-watching of A Charlie Brown Thanksgiving, and a cute little story about how the Native Americans helped the Pilgrims. However, now we know that is an inaccurate representation of what is a long and horrible history of the Europeans’ treatment of Native Americans and other Indigenous peoples. While there’s still a long way to come in the unfortunately strenuous battle for equity and reparations for this community, in the United States November is celebrated as Native American Heritage Month.
In case you didn’t know, Native Americans have had a difficult time on their own land ever since colonists arrived in 1492. When Christoper Columbus landed on a Bahamian island, his “first day he ordered six natives to be seized as servants.” This is symbiotic of the relationship the Europeans continued to have with Natives in the following centuries. To the native's dismay, the colonists persistently settled and gained power over various lands. However, in 1680, a revolt of Pueblo Native Americans in New Mexico threatened the Spanish rule over New Mexico.
Over the years, Europeans continued to gain power over Native American territories and eventually establish countries on their stolen land. They were forced to assimilate in a variety of ways such as Native American students assimilating in schools. To make matters worse, In 1887, The American president, Grover Cleveland, gave himself the power to divide up reservation land with the Dawes Act and in 1890, over a hundred Native Americans died in the Wounded Knee Massacre. It wasn’t until 1968 that President Lyndon B. Johnson signed the Indian Civil Rights Act but by then the damage had been done and there was so much loss of land and culture stolen to create what is now the United States of America.
Unfortunately, the historical and cultural loss of Native American history still lingers today but Native American Heritage month allows us to celebrate the accomplishments, contributions, and struggles of Native Americans and provide aid in a variety of ways. At the start of the century, Native American Heritage Month was an effort by many to simply “gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S.” In 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association approved a plan concerning the emergence of an American Indian Day. The plan directed the president of the Association, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, to request the country observe such a day and he issued a proclamation on September 28, 1915, declaring the second Saturday of each May as American Indian Day. The first American Indian Day was declared on the second Saturday of May in 1916 by the Governor of New York.
It wasn’t until President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month” that one day became a month-long celebration. Similar proclamations have now been issued every year since 1994 including this year. There are a variety of ways to celebrate this month and that includes learning more history about Native Americans and other Indigenous people as well as supporting Native American business and art! Other things you can also consider doing include sharing that art if you can’t afford to buy it or if you can afford it, donate or send money to a Native American person you know. If you can open your pockets to feed 30 people on Thanksgiving Day, you can open your pockets to give back to the people who died for it.
You can find resources on where to donate here.
You can find other Native American and Indigenous articles at Necessary Behavior here.