In recognition of the contributions and accomplishments Native American Indians have had in American history, the month of November was declared to be National American Indian Heritage Month by President George H. W. Bush in 1990. This month long observance provides a time for American Indians to share their history, culture and traditions with others.
Long before the president and congress established a commemorative month, Dr. Arthur C. Parker was one of the first advocates for an "American Indian Day" to raise awareness and support of the American Indian people. Dr. Parker was a Seneca Iroquois, and Director of the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Rochester, N.Y. He was able to persuade the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a special day for the "First Americans" and for three years they celebrated the day. In 1915, news of this special day eventually reached the Congress of the American Indian Association which directed its President, Reverend Sherman Coolidge, who was an Arapahoe Indian, to issue a proclamation declaring the second Saturday of May as American Indian Day.
In 1916, New York was the first state to officially observe American Indian Day on the second Saturday of May, while many other states celebrated on the fourth Friday in September. More recently, many states have began to observe American Indian day, which is also known in some states as Native American Day, in place of Columbus Day; however it remains a day that is observed without being a legally established national holiday.
In 1986, President Ronald Regan proclaimed the week of November 23rd through 30th to be "American Indian Heritage Week" This was enacted due to the legislation presented to Congress by Senator Daniel Inouye and Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega. From 1986 to 1989, the president continued to issue the "American Indian Heritage Week" proclamation.
In the late 1980's the founder and President of the American Indian Heritage Foundation, Princess Pale Moon, began to work towards her dream to establish a time dedicated to celebrating and sharing the diverse heritage of the American Indian people. It was also her hope that National American Indian Heritage Month would bring attention to those who have successfully preserved their culture and have also become successful in the business and educational world.
Then, in the spring of 1990, Pale Moon met with Congressman Eni Faleomavaega to assist her in making the shared dream of a heritage month come true. Soon after, Congressman Faleomavaega introduced a Bill to the House of Representatives and asked Senator Daniel Inouye to introduce a Bill to the Senate. Eventually, with the help of Congressman Faleomavaega, Senator Inouye, and other members of Congress, the Bill was passed establishing the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month. There was some discussion between members of Congress about changing the name of the month, but Pale Moon's wishes to keep the name the same were honored. The celebratory month became official when President George H. W. Bush issued a Proclamation declaring the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month.
Every year since, the current President has continued to issue official Proclamations for the annual observance of National American Indian Heritage Month. Recently in President Obama's 2009 proclamation, the name of the commemorative month was changed to "National Native American Heritage Month". In that proclamation the President stated, "The indigenous peoples of North America -- the First Americans -- have woven rich and diverse threads into the tapestry of our Nation's heritage. Throughout their long history on this great land, they have faced moments of profound triumph and tragedy alike. During National Native American Heritage Month, we recognize their many accomplishments, contributions, and sacrifices, and we pay tribute to their participation in all aspects of American society."
While traditions vary between tribes, many cities, towns and colleges will put on public events for the communities that include celebrations such as a powwow, dance lessons, museum exhibits, story-telling and Native language lessons. Many Native Americans also use these events to demonstrate their traditional regalia while engaging in a traditional dance group as well as native music shows and drum circles. Craft fairs showcasing Native American artists' skills in pottery, basketry, bead work and stone carving are common amongst the celebratory events.