Native American Heritage Day and Month: November offers national platform to talk about Indigenous culture and tradition

Shondiin Silversmith, Arizona Republic
·6 min read

PHOENIX — The month of November is more than Thanksgiving. It's also Native American Heritage Month, a time designated to honor and recognize the contributions Indigenous people have made to the United States.

The Friday following Thanksgiving Day of each year is Native American Heritage Day. In 2020, the holiday falls on Nov. 27.

"Our resilience and our strength as the first peoples of this land should be celebrated every day," said IllumiNative founder Crystal Echo Hawk in a Facebook video dedicated to Native American Heritage Month.

"As Indigenous peoples, we stand in our power every day. We continue to pass down traditions through ceremony, protect the wellness and health of our communities, and fight for clean air and water," she said.

Native American Heritage Day and Month provide a national platform for Indigenous people to shed light on their communities by leading discussions about culture and tradition, educating the public about tribal communities or celebrating culture by wearing traditional footwear for a week.

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"The month is a time to celebrate rich and diverse cultures, traditions, and histories and to acknowledge the important contributions of Native people," according to the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI).

"Heritage Month is also an opportune time to educate the general public about tribes, to raise a general awareness about the unique challenges Native people have faced both historically and in the present, and the ways in which tribal citizens have worked to conquer these challenges."

How the month got started

The United States is home to over 570 federally recognized tribes and the first proclamation designating November as Native American Heritage Month came from President George H.W. Bush in 1990, after Congress approved a resolution designating November 1990 as National American Indian Heritage Month.

By September of 1991, another resolution passed that authorized the President to proclaim every month of November as "American Indian Heritage Month." Since then, every sitting President signed a proclamation designating the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month.

In 2009, Congress passed the “Native American Heritage Day Act of 2009,” which designates the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.”

President Barack Obama signed the legislation and issued a proclamation on October 30, 2009, designating November 2009 as “National Native American Heritage Month” and November 27, 2009, as Native American Heritage Day.”

"The Indigenous peoples of North America — the First Americans — have woven rich and diverse threads into the tapestry of our Nation's heritage," Obama said in his 2009 proclamation.

"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."

President Donald Trump signed this year's proclamation on Oct.30 and it reads: "During National Native American Heritage Month, we honor the storied legacy of American Indians and Alaska Natives in our Nation. Their cherished legacy, rich cultures, and heroic history of military service inspire us all."

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In Arizona, Gov. Doug Ducey released a proclamation Nov. 16, first signed on Oct. 16, recognizing November as Native American Heritage Month in the state.

“Arizona is enriched by the many diverse contributions from people all across our state, and this month, we are proud to celebrate the Native American community’s vibrant heritage, civic leadership, and history of service to our state and nation," Ducey said in a news release.

Dylan Baca, president of the group Indigenous Peoples' Initiative, said the proclamation is "a good gesture and it shows that we're moving in the right direction, but nonetheless it's still just a symbol rather than actual work."

Baca, 18, is a citizen of the White Mountain Apache Tribe and also played a role in getting Ducey to sign the Indigenous Peoples Day Proclamation in October.

How people are celebrating the month

Celebrations for Native American Heritage Month vary across the U.S., but some of the national celebrations include the "Rock Your Mocs" campaign and Red Shawl Day.

Rock Your Mocs was established in 2011. It's become a worldwide movement for Indigenous people and it's held annually during the month of November.

Rock Your Mocs events are "a positive opportunity to be united and celebrate tribal individuality by wearing moccasins," the website states. "We honor our ancestors, and indigenous peoples worldwide."

This year's "Rock Your Mocs" event is held from Nov. 15-21.

"It’s easy to participate by wearing moccasins to school, to work or wherever your day takes you," the Rock Your Mocs Facebook page states. "Or if a person doesn’t own mocs, can’t wear mocs, or perhaps their Tribe didn’t wear mocs, they may wear a Turquoise Awareness Ribbon instead."

Indigenous peoples across the world share their traditional regalia on social media using hashtags #RockYourMocs or #RockYourMocs2020. The Rock Your Mocs Facebook page highlights the posts throughout the week.

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Another national celebration is Red Shawl Day, which is observed on Nov. 19, while the week leading to it is observed as Red Shawl Week. People are encouraged to wear red in honor of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls.

"For the week of November 15-21, wear red to draw attention to the horrible acts of violence committed against American Indian and Alaska Native people, particularly women and children. Red symbolizes the loss of sacred lifeblood through violence," according to the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

The agency is encouraging people to add to the conversation around MMIWG by using the hashtag #RedShawlWeek on social media and #RedShawlDay on Nov. 19.

Artist Thomas Breeze Marcus, stands in front of his mural in South Phoenix. Marcus was one of the five lead muralists from Indigenous Peoples of present-day Arizona that participated in creating work related to the election, the future of Indigenous communities, and collective society.
Artist Thomas Breeze Marcus, stands in front of his mural in South Phoenix. Marcus was one of the five lead muralists from Indigenous Peoples of present-day Arizona that participated in creating work related to the election, the future of Indigenous communities, and collective society.

Social media is also a huge driver for Indigenous people when it comes to educating the public about Indigenous communities or providing insight into culture and traditions.

In an effort to highlight the Indigenous communities, TikTok is working to bring more attention to Indigenous peoples and stories on its platform.

"Through family traditions, music, food and dance, Native American stories are shared every day on TikTok and this month, we will continue sharing stories through #NativeFamily and special LIVE programming, and building the community through a virtual event for Native creators to meet and connect," the press release states.

"It's important that we celebrate the culture, accomplishments and contributions of people who were the first inhabitants of the U.S.," the press release says. "On TikTok, our #NativeFamily is a vibrant and growing community of creators, users, and artists."

One of the featured Indigenous creators is Kymon Palau (@kkymonn) who is Diné and Tongan. He hosted a TikTok live event on Nov. 11 titled "Dinner with me." Palau showcased how to make Native food, including steamed corn stew and frybread.

Palau's channel has over 230,000 follows and his videos have received over 6 million likes. One of his most viewed videos is a step-by-step video of making Nitsidigo'i, which is kneeldown bread, a traditional Navajo food.

"The #NativeFamily on TikTok is already a small but mighty community," TikTok stated in a press release.

Follow Shondiin Silversmith on Twitter: @DiinSilversmith.

This article originally appeared on Arizona Republic: Native American Heritage Day, November honors Indigenous histories