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Overview

National American Indian Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of the peoples who were the original inhabitants, explorers and settlers of the United States.

“National American Indian Heritage Month” had its origins in 1986 when Congress passed Pub. L. 99-471 (PDF, 93KB) which authorized and requested the President to proclaim the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.”  As directed by Congress, President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5577 (external link) in November 1986 proclaiming the first American Indian Week.  Both law and proclamation recognized the American Indians as the first inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States as well as making mention of their contributions to American society:

  • Many of the foods we eat and the medicines and remedies we use were introduced by Indians and more than one highway follows an Indian trail.  Indians make contributions in every area of endeavor and American life, and our literature and all our arts draw upon Indian themes and wisdom.  Countless American Indians have served in our Armed Forces and have fought valiantly for our country.

In 1987 Congress passed Pub. L. 100-171 which again called upon the President to designate the week of November 22-28, 1987 as “American Indian Week” while in 1988 Congress passed Pub. L. 100-450 which designated the week of September 23-30, 1988 as “National American Indian Heritage Week.”  According to Pub. L. 100-450 this change from November to September was made because “the last week of September begins the harvest season in the United States.”   Then in 1989 Congress passed Pub. L. 101-188 which asked the President to proclaim the week of December 3-9, 1989 as “National American Indian Heritage Week.”

As requested by Congress, Presidents Reagan and George Bush issued annual proclamations in 1987, 1988, and 1989 for “National American Indian Week,” honoring the achievements of the American Indians.

In 1990 Congress passed Pub. L. 101-343 (PDF, 211KB) which authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation designating the month of November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.  Congress chose the month of the November to recognize the American Indians as this month concluded the traditional harvest season and was generally a time of thanksgiving and celebration for the American Indians.  President George W. Bush issued Presidential Proclamation 6230 (external link) which paid tribute to the rich history and culture of the American Indian tribes.  In 1991 Congress passed Pub. L. 102-123 which authorized and requested the President proclaim the months of November 1991 and 1992 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.”  Congress passed Pub. L. 103-462 authorized the President to proclaim November 1993 and 1994 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” 

Since 1995 Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush and Obama have issued annual proclamations which designate November as National American Indian Heritage Month. These proclamations celebrate the contributions of the American Indians and urge the peoples of the United States to learn more about the American Indian cultures.

Legislative Branch Documents

The public laws between 1986 and 1988 which designate a week in November as American Indian Heritage Week are published in the United States Statutes at Large which is available at many Federal depository libraries.  The specific citations are as follows: 

                                                 

  • Pub. L. 99-471 (PDF, 93KB), 100 Stat. 1199 (PDF, 93 KB) establishes the first American Indian Week.
  • Pub. L. 100-171, 101 Stat. 915
  • Pub. L. 100-450, 102 Stat. 1899
  • Pub. L. 101-188, 103 Stat. 1351
  • Pub. L. 101-343 (PDF, 211KB), 104 Stat. 391 (PDF, 211 KB) establishes National American Indian Heritage Month.
  • Pub. L. 102-123, 105 Stat. 614
  • Pub. L. 103-462, 108 Stat. 4805

Executive Branch Documents

Presidential Proclamations and Executive Orders have been used by presidents to rule on substantive issues of law; to administrate the executive branch of government; and to make general announcements to the public.  These general announcements which exhort the public to observe a holiday such as Thanksgiving or honor a particular group of citizens as in National Black History Month are usually issued in the form of a Presidential Proclamation.  On many occasions Congress will pass a law specifically requesting the President to take certain action such as proclaiming the recognition of a particular group of citizens as Jewish or Hispanic Americans.

Listed below are links to the Presidential Proclamations for American Indian Week or National American Indian Heritage Month beginning with 1986 along with the citations to the Code of Federal Regulations or the Federal Register the official publications for Presidential Proclamations.

Presidential proclamations as well as Presidential statements, messages, remarks for National American Indian Heritage Month between 1997-2010 can be searched from the Government Printing Office’s Advanced Search page in the collections for the Code of Federal Regulations, the Compilation of Presidential Documents and the Federal Register.

Presidential proclamations for the annual observances of American Indian Week and National American Indian Heritage Month between 1986-1996 can be browsed through American Presidency Project (external link) by selecting the year and clicking on the Display button.

Treaties and agreements between the United States and the American Indian peoples between 1778 and 1971 can be found in Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (external link).

Web Resources

Library of Congress: Native American Heritage Month

National Indian Law Library (external link)

American Indian Library Association (external link)

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Last Updated: 08/06/2014