Native American Heritage Day

Civil holiday observed the day after Thanksgiving in the United States
Native American Heritage Day
Observed byUnited States of America
SignificanceA day in honor of Native Americans
DateDay after U.S. Thanksgiving
2023 dateNovember 24  (2023-11-24)
2024 dateNovember 29  (2024-11-29)
2025 dateNovember 28  (2025-11-28)
2026 dateNovember 27  (2026-11-27)

Native American Heritage Day is a civil holiday observed on the day after Thanksgiving in the United States.


Native American Heritage Day is a civil holiday that is celebrated on the day after Thanksgiving also known as "Black Friday". According to SAMHSA "As of 2021, there are 574 federally recognized Tribes in the United States. However, numerous others are still advocating for recognition"[1] Many tribes have not been recognized yet, and a lot of this comes from lack of history. There has been a lot of struggles and fighting for this holiday to even be recognized by some and for the Native American Culture to be seen.

Early 1900s

One of the first fights for a Native American Day came from Dr. Arthur C.Parker. Dr Arthur was a Seneca Indian who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y. He was able to persuade the Boy Scouts of America to take a day to commemorate the Native American culture.[2] For three years this day stood in place and was celebrated. Then in 1915 the annual Congress of American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, formally approved a plan with Native American day.[2] The president Sherman Coolidge, an Arapaho, called upon the county to observe the day. Coolidge made a proclamation on Sept 28, 1915,[2] which made the second Saturday of May as the first official Native American Heritage day and it was the first appeal that recognized the American Indians as citizens. This was the first time the Native Americans culture had been celebrated and recognized for their role in the US and importance to the country. The First Native American day that was declared in a state was declared on the second Saturday of May in 1916, by the governor of New York.[2] Several States during this time however chose the fourth Friday in September to celebrate the day, and in Illinois legislators enacted such a day in 1919.[3] The fourth Friday was chosen as this was Columbus day and several states chose that day to also recognize Native Americans since they were there when Columbus arrived in America. In 1924 Congress passed the Indian Citizenship act, which allowed citizenship to all U.S. born American Indians who were not already covered by treaties or any other agreements from the government that granted them that title.[4] Indian Americans were the last minority group to gain this role and the early 1900s is when their culture finally began to come around in the nation and was celebrated through the nationally appointed days for them and through new agreements from the government. The early 1900s was a big time period for the culture and life of Native Americans. While they were fighting for their culture to be recognized and commemorated they were also fighting for their own civil and equal rights in the US nation that had been minimally given to them. Native Americans were such a big part of our Nation's history and the upbringing of the US that to see their culture go unrecognized and underground would be unfair to those who helped start this nation.

Late 1900s

Long after we saw the first National Native American day, there was another surge of recognizing Native Americans for their shaping of the nation. In 1986 Congress passed a law requesting that President Ronald Reagan declare the week of November 23, "American Indian week".[5] President Reagan honored the request and issued the "President Proclamation 5577". In this Proclamation Reagan exclaims the contributions of American and Native Indians to this Nation. Reagan states "They are lasting reminders of the presence and the significance of American Indians not just in our geography but throughout the whole of American history."[5] Reagan recognized their importance of upbringing to the nation and honored a week for them[5] Shortly after "Native American Week" in 1990 Congress requested that the whole of November be declared "National Native American Heritage Month"[5] so that Americans could be reminded of Native Americans shaping our country and celebrate them. President Bush accepted this request and made "Presidential Proclamation 6230". In Bushes Proclamation he recognizes the great wealth of their culture, community and family, knowledge, and great wisdom that the Native Americans represented.[5] Bush states "Unbeknownst to their fellowman halfway around the world, these Native peoples had developed rich, thriving cultures, as well as their own systems of social order. They also possessed a wealth of acquired wisdom and skills in hunting, tracking, and farming—knowledge and skills that would one day prove to be invaluable to traders and settlers from Europe."[5] Bush also recognizes the future and opportunity to strengthen the relationship between the Nation and Native Americans he says "Today we reaffirm our support for increased Indian control over tribal government affairs, and we look forward to still greater economic independence and self-sufficiency for Native Americans."[5] Bush addressed everything from the importance of their culture inspiring the nation and the Europeans who came there to how they will continue to impact the future and create better relationships with the Nation.[5]


In the 2000s we still saw President Clinton, Obama, Bush, and Trump continuing the annual proclamation that designated November as National Native American Heritage month. However, in 2008 Congress passed a law signed by President Bush that made the Friday after Thanksgiving or "Black Friday" the National Native American Heritage Day".[5] This was the first nationally appointed day for Native Americans and was huge for their culture. Donald Trump in 2020 made an annual proclamation for Native American Heritage Month.[5] Trump addressed the importance of recognizing their culture and maintaining a strong relationship with their leaders and preserving this day and their heritage in the future. Trump states " 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. This month, as we recommit to supporting Native American Tribes and people, we resolve to work side-by-side with their leaders to secure stronger, safer communities and preserve their sacred heritage for future generations."[5] (Trump, proclamation 10113). To this day the month and day are still celebrated and their heritage is recognized.

National legislative history

President George W. Bush signed into law legislation introduced by Congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif.), to designate the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day. The Native American Heritage Day Bill[6] was supported by the National Indian Gaming Association (NIGA) and 184 federally recognized tribes, and designates Friday, November 28, 2008, as a day to pay tribute to Native Americans for their many contributions to the United States.[citation needed]

The Native American Heritage Day Bill encourages Americans of all backgrounds to observe the day after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day, through appropriate ceremonies and activities. It also encourages public elementary and secondary schools to enhance student understanding of Native Americans by providing classroom instructions focusing on their history, achievements, and contributions.[citation needed]

The United States House of Representatives originally passed H.J. Res. 62 on November 13, 2007. The bill was passed with technical adjustments by unanimous consent in the United States Senate on September 22, 2008. Then, on September 26, 2008, the House of Representatives unanimously voted to pass the legislation again, this time including the adjustments from the Senate. The legislation was signed into public law by the President on October 8, 2008.[citation needed]

Some individual states have also taken legislative action to recognize this day. For example, Maryland established this day in 2008 under the name American Indian Heritage Day.[7] Further, the State House of Washington approved this measure in 2013.[8]


Native American Heritage Day has faced heavy criticism from Native Americans across the United States, as the placement and timing of the holiday is seen by many as an insult or in poor taste to Indigenous heritage and culture.[9] This holiday falls on the day after Thanksgiving, which many believe not only overshadows the lesser known holiday, but also brings a heap of controversy of its own. Thanksgiving is known as the National Day of Mourning for many Native Americans, as they believe it celebrates the events correlated with the mistreatment and murder of Natives.[10] This is articulated by Native American reporter, Savannah Maher, as she says, "Native American Heritage Day falls after a holiday that omits the murder and mutilation of Natives. And that's even more difficult to stomach for me ... For indigenous people that day is known as 'Un-Thanksgiving' or 'the National Day of Mourning.' Because we mourn the millions of indigenous people who died as a result of aggressive settler colonialism."[10] Here Maher also argues her viewpoint on how Thanksgiving is seen and felt by many Native Americans, and why she believes it makes the choice of date for Native American Heritage day so insensitive and insulting. This is seconded by many others as well, with renowned professor of History and American Studies at Yale, Ned Blackhawk, sharing his thoughts on the matter during an NPR interview on WBEZ Chicago. In response to being asked about the opportunities of Native American Heritage Day and where such recognitions fall short, he says, "It's an evolving, institutionalized commitment made by many entities, government and non. And it also follows what many Native Americans feel to be a national day of mourning around the Thanksgiving holiday, which is not universally shared but is often - particularly animates Northeastern Indigenous Nations who feel their communities and histories have never been fully recognized or incorporated."[11] Blackhawk describes how he and many other Native Americans see the holiday, and breaks down why they are frustrated with this holiday taking place the day after Thanksgiving. This is furthered by Savannah Maher, who describes how she is asked at least once every year if Native Americans celebrate Thanksgiving. "The answer is that my family (though I can't speak for the other 5 million Indigenous people in America) doesn't. Not the "brave-pilgrims-and-friendly-savages" version of the holiday, anyway. Twenty or 30 of us might gather under the same roof to share a meal. We'll thank the creator for our blessings."[10] Maher describes how she and her family perceive Thanksgiving, and why they are not inclined to celebrate it, which also explains why many others are ticked off with the placement of Native American Heritage day.

Another point of emphasis for many Native Americans is that Native American Heritage day falls on Black Friday, which has led to a lot of criticism, with some calling this even more insulting and disrespectful.[9] Black Friday consists of national chain stores offering major deals on a variety of things, in order to lure customers into stores in big numbers.[12] Many Native Americans feel that this clashes with and opposes Native American Heritage day, as they argue that it goes against their non materialistic and nature oriented values.[9] In a WBUR interview, Native American activist, Simon Moya-Smith says, "Native American Heritage Day should be a day when the nation takes time to recognize our contributions, our sacrifices, what happened to indigenous people, what's still happening to indigenous people. Instead, Native American Heritage Day falls on Black Friday, a day of excess and gluttony and greed and aggressive capitalism. And that's extremely poor taste."[9] He believes that this is an offensive and insensitive choice of date for the holiday, and this is stressed by many others in the community. In an NPR interview, Maher describes the struggle that the fall season brings for Native Americans such as herself, and details her grandma's reaction to the placement of the holiday: "'Black Friday?' My grandmother shouted at the TV in 2008 when we learned that President George W. Bush had chosen the Friday after Thanksgiving to celebrate us. 'You've got to be kidding me!' One last measure of insult heaped atop a season's worth of injury."[10] This illustrates the outrage that many Native Americans have felt in response to the holiday and what it means to put it on Black Friday, a day that many say centers around capitalism, greed, and materialism.[9]

The frustration that many Native Americans have felt in response to Native American Heritage Day fits into what some say is a larger issue throughout the fall months especially, with Native Americans being misrepresented and not given proper recognition.[10] Simon Moya-Smith even goes as far to say that "Fall is the annual middle finger this country gives Native Americans."[10] Savannah Maher expands on this, saying that, "At the very least, it's a disorienting time to be Indigenous. Images of Native people are everywhere: greeting cards, football helmets and elementary school pageants with paper-bag vests and historical imprecision. At this time of year, it's these long-haired, buckskin wearing presumptions of how Indians should look and behave that get mainstream exposure. Not our humanity."[10] Here Maher expresses her frustration and the personal experience that she has had in the fall as a Native American. This articulates how many Native Americans are fed up with the choice of date for Native American Heritage day, as they feel that this continues the trend of the misrepresentation and poor recognition that plagues them throughout the fall months. Moya-Smith goes into further detail to describe his experience with these Native American misrepresentations and stereotypes, as he says, "I want people to recognize the indigenous people of today who are doctors, lawyers, professors. We're not this stereotypical image that's perpetuated in the media."[9] Moya-Smith stresses his desire for people to see Native Americans for who he believes they are, and not be stuck believing the built up stereotypes and narratives created by the media. He also voices that he hopes people will follow him and others on social media, because on Native American Heritage Day they're trying to eradicate the false stereotypes about who they are.[9]

See also


  1. ^ Stokes, Jared (November 30, 2021). "Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month". Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.
  2. ^ a b c d "National Native American Heritage Month". Native American Heritage Month. Retrieved 2024-02-04.
  3. ^ "U.S. Senate: Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month". United States Senate. Retrieved 2024-02-04.
  4. ^ "Today in History - June 2". Library of Congress, Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. Retrieved 2024-02-04.
  5. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Buhalo, Michelle (2020-11-19). "Researching Native American Heritage Month & Tribal Law". Jenkins Law Library (Blog). Retrieved 2024-02-04.
  6. ^ House Joint Resolution 62, Native American Heritage Day Act of 2008.
  7. ^ Maryland Laws 2008, Chapter 486, State Holiday -American Indian Heritage Day.
  8. ^ Associated, The (2013-02-21). "Washington state House approves 'Native American Heritage Day' bill". oregonlive. Retrieved 2019-11-08.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g "Native American Heritage Day Falling On Black Friday Is 'Poor Taste,' Activist Says". 2017-11-21. Retrieved 2024-02-04.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Maher, Savannah (November 23, 2017). "For Many Native Americans, Fall Is The Least Wonderful Time Of The Year". NPR.
  11. ^ "Native American Heritage Day honors Indigenous people, but it's falling short". NPR. November 24, 2023.
  12. ^ "Why Is It Called Black Friday? | Britannica". Retrieved 2024-02-04.
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