Native American History Month
Although the first "American Indian Day" was declared by the State of New York in 1916, a month long recognition of Native Americans was not achieved until 1990. In that year, President George Bush declared the first National American Indian Heritage Month on August 3. His action was based on legislation presented by Senator Daniel K. Inouye (D-Hawaii) and Congressional Delegate Eni Faleomavaega (D-American Samoa). In each of the four previous years, Congress had enacted legislation designating "American Indian Heritage Week." This consecutive legislation allowed for the establishment of a month-long observance.
The purpose of National American Indian Heritage Month is to honor and recognize the original peoples of this land. The 1996 proclamation details their contributions to the past and to the future:
Throughout our history, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have been an integral part of the American character. Against the odds, America's first peoples have endured, and they remain a vital cultural, political, social, and moral presence. Tribal America has brought to this great country certain values and ideas that have become ingrained in the American spirit: the knowledge that humans can thrive and prosper without destroying the natural environment; the understanding that people from very different backgrounds, cultures, religions, and traditions can come together to build a great country; and the awareness that diversity can be a source of strength rather than division.
As we celebrate American Indian Heritage Month this year, we take note of the injustices that have been suffered by American Indian people. Even today, few enjoy the full bounty of America's prosperity. But even as we look to the past, we must also look to the future. Along with other Americans, American Indians and Alaska Natives will face new challenges in the coming century. We can ill afford to leave any of our people behind. Tribal America must figure as prominently in our future as it has in our past.
Let us rededicate ourselves to the principle that all Americans have the tools to make the most of their God-given potential. For Indian tribes and tribal members, this means that the authority of tribal governments must be accorded the respect and support to which they are entitled under the law. It means that American Indian children and youth must be provided a solid education and the opportunity to go on to college. It means that more must be done to stimulate tribal economies, create jobs, and increase economic opportunities.
Our bridge to the 21st century will rest upon the foundation we build today. We must teach our children about our past -- both the good and the bad -- so that they may learn from our successes and mistakes. We must provide our children with the knowledge and skills to permit them to surpass our own achievements and create a stronger, more united American community. We must provide them greater opportunity. It was the Iroquois who taught that in every deliberation we should consider the impact of our decisions on the next 7 generations.
In recognition of the important contributions of American Indian and Alaska Native peoples to our country and in light of the special legal relationship between the tribes and the Government of the United States, and obligations pursuant thereto, we celebrate National American Indian Heritage Month.
University of Arkansas, Medical Center. (2003) Valuing our Differences: Celebrating Diversity. Retrieved October 15, 2008, from http://www3.kumc.edu/diversity/ethnic_relig/naihm.html
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