November is Native American Heritage Month! This purpose of this month-long acknowledgement is to celebrate the rich diversity and long history of Native Americans. Through discovering the culture, traditions, and contributions of individuals and tribes, the public can learn about the unique challenges and incredible resilience of this population. According to the 2010 Census, there are approximately 5.2 million Native American people in the United States, making up 1.7% of the total population. For the Census, “Native American” refers to “a person having origins in any of the original people of North, South, and Central America and who maintain tribal affiliation.” There are over 150 Native American languages spoken in the United States and Canada alone.

History of the Month

In the early 1900s, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, NY and a Seneca Native American, persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to establish a special day of honor for the “First Americans.” In 1915, the annual, “Congress of the American Indian Association” met in Lawrence, Kansas. During this meeting, the group approved a plan for the first “American Indian Day”. The Association’s President, Rev. Sherman Coolidge issued an official proclamation on September 28th, 1915, declaring the second Saturday of May as “American Indian Day.” In addition, the proclamation also contained the first formal appeal for the recognition of Native Americans as United States citizens. Meanwhile, in 1914, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Native American, rode on horseback across the United States appealing to state governments about establishing an awareness day. On December 14th, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House. A federal day was not declared at that time, however, shortly after in May 1916, the governor of New York declared the second Saturday of May, “American Indian Day”, being the first state to do so.

It was not until 1990 that President George H.W. Bush issued a joint resolution declaring November as “National American Indian Heritage Month”. Today, several states have designated “Columbus Day” as “Indigenous People’s Day”. On October 8th, 2021, President Biden became the first US President to formally recognize Indigenous People’s Day.

At Meals on Wheels of Central Maryland, we honor our Native American community members, volunteers, and clients and celebrate November in solidarity.

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