Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month
What is National Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month?
November is Native American Heritage Month, or American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. During this month, celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and acknowledge the significant contributions of Native people.
In the United States, Heritage Months are periods within the year that are chosen to celebrate and acknowledge various ethnic and marginalized groups. These are times to celebrate and educate others on different groups’ histories and contributions to American History.
Where did Native American Heritage Month come from?
As early as 1916, when New York became the first state to declare an “American Indian Day,” efforts have been underway to acknowledge the contributions and achievements of Native peoples.
In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial commemoration, S.J. Res. 209 authorized President Gerald Ford to proclaim October 10-16, 1976, as “Native American Awareness Week.”
In 1990 Congress passed, and President George H. W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution naming November as the first National American Indian Heritage Month*. “American Indians were the original inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the USA,” noted H.J. Res. 577. “Native American Indians have made an essential and unique contribution to our Nation” and “to the world.”
In 1986 Congress passed S.J. Res. 390, asking that the president choose November 23–30th, as “American Indian Week.” Congress continued this practice in later years, declaring one week during the autumn months as “Native American Indian Heritage Week.”
Why do we celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Heritage Month?
We celebrate Indigenous peoples’ past and present and rededicate ourselves to honoring Tribal sovereignty, promoting Tribal self-determination, and upholding the United States solemn trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations.
Six Ways to Celebrate National Indigenous People’s Month
As more and more states are getting on board with the pivot from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Month, you may be wondering how best to celebrate the new holiday.
The need for change and awareness is of the highest importance. Indigenous people suffer horrible violence and discrimination, historically and currently, and they must constantly fight for visibility to the point where people do not even think they exist anymore.
Additionally, statistics show that the COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected Native Americans, yet they are simultaneously being overlooked by data and have not received proper care.
Of course, the solution to this problem will require more than one month of action, but if you want to advocate, Indigenous Peoples’ Month is a great start!
Learn, honor, and celebrate with one or all six of these ideas:
#1 ATTEND AN IN-PERSON OR VIRTUAL CELEBRATION/EDUCATIONAL OPPORTUNITY
The number of in-person and virtual events to celebrate Indigenous People’s Month is growing yearly!
In-person and virtual ceremonies and celebrations occur across the country, especially in libraries and museums. Do a quick search, and you may find an Indigenous Peoples’ Month celebration in your area!
#2 EDUCATE YOURSELF AND YOUR FAMILY
You can also have a small, private celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Month by watching a movie that authentically features Indigenous people and celebrates their accomplishments.
Vision Maker Media has a great list of educational movies on various topics concerning Indigenous people, including one on the legacy of Columbus Day. Many of these videos are available in physical and digital formats, so this celebration does not require more planning than a Netflix binge.
For younger kids, go to your local library and check out books about the history and contributions of Indigenous Peoples. Check out this list of recommended books from American Indians in Children’s Literature (AICL). They have dozens of book recommendations for all ages—from board books to novels for adults.
#3 TAKE ACTION TO RENAME COLUMBUS DAY
If your state has not embraced the change to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, they may need a little push to point them in the right direction—and inspiration that could come from you!
Research where your state or city stands. Then, do a little digging and see if any individuals or groups in your area are working to change the name of the holiday to the state or local level. They will be happy to have your help.
You can also urge change at the federal level by signing this petition, asking congress to revoke the federal holiday status of Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
#4 GET INVOLVED IN THE ANTI-MASCOT MOVEMENT
Unfortunately, hundreds of high school and college teams still use stereotypical and racist terms and images of Native Americans.
If you live in an area with a racially insensitive mascot, fighting for change is a great (and simple!) way to honor Native Americans. Check out the Abolishing Native Racist Mascots Toolkit here.
#5 SUPPORT INDIGENOUS PEOPLE’S RIGHTS ORGANIZATIONS
Indigenous Peoples’ Month is a great way to bring awareness to the culture of the Indigenous people who live among us. These people also face unique issues that cannot be solved in a single day, month, or even year.
Organizations use monetary donations to supply culturally relevant services through their reservation partners’ self-determined needs and goals, including education, elder care, nutrition programs, and reservation animal rescue.
If you are looking for more ways to donate, you can also reflect on all the natural areas native people have worked tirelessly to preserve over the last few years.
There are ways to donate to protect and restore these natural areas. The Bears Ears Inter-Tribal Coalition is a great way to give and get involved.
#6 WORDS MATTER
It is essential to use language correctly in our messaging. Native nations were separated from their homelands due to battles, genocide, and western expansion.
There are distinctions among various tribes resulting from geographic location, language, and cultural practices. For example, within the Lakota Nation (aka Sioux), there are seven bands, and within one round, there are three: Hidatsa, Arikara, and Mandan.
Within the Cheyenne, there are two: Northern and Southern. It is like the Arapaho, River Crow, Mountain Crow, and others. In addition, there are various regional identities, such as the Northern Plains, Southern Plains, Wetlands, etc.
The Harpers Ferry Center Editorial Style Guide provides NPS staff and partners guidance. We are also grateful for help from CIRCLE, the Council for Indigenous Relevancy, Communication, Leadership, and Excellence employee resource group, in developing this guidance.
We hope you find a way to learn and celebrate this year. Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Month!