The first American Indian Day was celebrated in May 1916 in New York. The event culminated an effort by Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfeet Nation who rode across the nation on horseback seeking approval from 24 state governments to have a day to honor American Indians. More than seven decades later, then-President George H.W. Bush in 1990 signed a joint congressional resolution designating the month of November “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations have been issued every year since 1994 to recognize what is now called “American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.”
For almost one hundred years, Americans both Indian and non-Indian have urged that there be permanently designated by the nation a special place on the calendar to honor the contributions, achievements, sacrifices, and cultural and historical legacy of the original inhabitants of what is now the United States and their descendants: the American Indian and Alaska Native people.
The quest for a national honoring of American Indians began in the early 20th century as a private effort. As far back as the late 1970s, Congress has enacted legislation and subsequent presidents have issued annual proclamations designating a day, a week or a month to celebrate and commemorate the nation’s American Indian and Alaska Native heritage. In 2009, Congress passed and President Obama signed legislation that established the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.”
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