The History of American Indian Heritage Month
At the turn of the century, an effort began to gain a day of recognition for the significant contributions the first Americans made to the establishment and growth of the U.S. This has now expanded in a whole month being designated for that purpose.
Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian and the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, NY, was one of the early proponents of an American Indian Day. He persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the "First Americans" and for three years they adopted such a day. In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, KS, formally approved a plan concerning American Indian Day. It directed its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, to call upon the country to observe such a day. Coolidge issued a proclamation on September 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.
In 1914, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback from state-to-state seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House. There is no record, however, of such a national day being proclaimed.
The governor of New York declared the second Saturday in May 1916 to be the first American Indian Day. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.
President George Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations have been issued each year since 1994. The theme for 2004 is "Working to Preserve Cultural Heritage and Tribal Resources."
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