In-Depth: Sponsoring Sen. John Hoeven (R-ND) reintroduced this resolution from the 115th Congress to recognize National Native American Heritage Month and celebrate Native Americans’ heritage, culture, and contributions to U.S. history. After this resolution passed the Senate, he said:
“We are pleased that the Senate has approved our resolution to recognize the culture, history, traditions, and achievements made by Native Americans to our great country. From their distinguished service in the Armed Forces, to their contributions as inventors, artists, entrepreneurs, and scholars, Native Americans continue to play a fundamental role in the growth and success of the United States.”
When he introduced this resolution in the 115th Congress in November 2018, Sen. Hoeven said:
“Native American Heritage Month recognizes the remarkable legacies and accomplishments of Native Americans. While this resolution designates November as Native American Heritage Month, it is important that we honor and respect the contributions of tribal communities throughout the year. We’ve worked hard… to advance Indian Country’s priorities, including improving public safety, education and health care while also creating opportunities for economic growth and good jobs. I look forward to continuing the Committee’s critical work to empower the Native American people, maintain tribal sovereignty and preserve their heritage.”
Original Democratic cosponsor Sen. Tom Udall (D-NM) added:
“I’m proud that the Senate passed our bipartisan resolution recognizing November as Native American Heritage Month. This resolution honors the countless ways Native American have shaped New Mexico and our national identity. It also challenges us to examine how we can better stand with Tribes to meet our trust and treaty obligations. As vice-chairman of the Senate Committee on Indian Affairs, I am proud to represent the 23 Tribes from my home state of New Mexico and all Tribes across the country. It is an honor to work with Tribal leaders, Native communities, and people on both sides of the aisle to strengthen Tribal sovereignty, self-determination, and self-governance each day.”
Last Congress, Sen. Udall noted the many contributions that Native Americans have made to U.S. history and culture:
“[W]e recognize and celebrate the indelible mark that Native American arts, languages, cultures, and peoples have left on New Mexico and the United States. From the Iroquois Confederacy to World War II Code Talkers and beyond, Native communities have shaped the American experience for hundreds of years, helping to write every chapter of our nation’s history. And, in New Mexico, which is home to 23 Tribes, the bedrock of who we are as a state and a people is rooted in the contributions of Native leaders, languages, and traditions.”
Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM), sponsor of this resolution’s House companion, says:
“[November] is set aside to celebrate Native American contributions to this country, but also to recognize the failure of the federal government to uphold its trust responsibility to Native Nations. Native Americans have overcome many hardships since the onset of colonization including federally-mandated genocide and devastating federal policies including assimilation and removal eras. And we're still here. This month, we must celebrate the resilience of our Native American communities, and work to ensure the federal government lives up to its trust responsibility to Native Nations.”
This legislation passed the Senate by unanimous consent with the support of 31 bipartisan Senate cosponsors, including 20 Democrats, 10 Republicans, and one Independent. Its House companion, sponsored by Rep. Debra Haaland (D-NM), has 24 bipartisan House cosponsors, including 22 Democrats and two Republicans.
Of Note: National American Indian Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of the people who were the original inhabitants, explorers, and settlers of the U.S. It originates from 1986, when Congress enacted Pub. L. 99-471, which authorized and requested the president to proclaim the week of November 23-30, 1986 as “American Indian Week.”
Since 1995, Presidents Clinton, George W. Bush, Obama, and Trump have issued annual proclamations designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month or National Native American Heritage Month (which is what the month has been called since 2009). These proclamations celebrate the contributions of the American Indians and urge people in the U.S. to learn more about American Indian cultures.
This year, however, while President Trump issued the customary proclamation designating November 2019 as National Native American Heritage Month and November 29, 2019 as Native American Heritage Day, he also issued a concurrent resolution also designating November 2019 as National American History and Founders Month.
Some have criticized the concurrent timing of these two observations, arguing that Trump’s timing of the National American History and Founders Month celebration is an effort to chip away at tribal sovereignty and erase Native American history. Clifford Trafzer, a UC Riverside professor who specializes in Native American history, says he believes Trump’s actions were intentionally harmful to Native American peoples:
“Conservatives have long tried to destroy Indian people and Indian nations, like Trump's hero, Andrew Jackson. He renamed the month as he wanted to do additional harm to American Indian people who have a history of dealing with destroyers like Trump. His proclamation is an affront to Native Americans but also American citizens who understand the foundation of the United States on Indian lands and from Native resources."
Defenders of the National American History and Founders Month proclamation argue that it’s designed to encourage and support the study of U.S. history. CACI — whose executive chairman and chairman of the board Jack London’s wife, Dr. Jennifer Burkhart London, has led this initiative — supports the establishment of National American History and Founders Month. In a November 2018 special announcement, it said:
“[I]n recognition of the growing importance of American history to maintaining a democratic society, CACI supports the establishment of November as National American History and Founders Month. As the United States approaches its 250th anniversary in 2026, this commemoration is intended to empower Americans to be active citizens with a greater understanding of our country's foundational origins, and its civics and governance. While other holidays celebrate key events, leaders, and groups responsible for shaping and building the nation, there has been no official recognition or formal commemoration of America's founding history. The selection of November is set apart and distinguished by its inclusion of several important milestone dates, such as Election Day, Veterans Day, and Thanksgiving. Establishment of an annual National American History and Founders Month will create a tradition of educating and popularizing the early history of our country and its founders. This new commemoration will boost the appreciation and study of American history, the founding history and principles of our country, the Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, the Bill of Rights, the structure of our government, and the unique process by which our government leaders are elected.”
Trafzer also argues that Trump doesn’t care about the Founding Fathers, as “He cannot name most of the Founding Fathers. "He knows nothing of the Constitution of the development of the American Republic."
For National Native American Heritage Month 2019, the Bureau of Indian Affairs at the Dept. of the Interior put together a month’s worth of events — beginning with a kickoff event on November 12 and ending with closing events and a ceremony on November 21 — to celebrate Native American culture and raise awareness of issues facing the Native American community.
Summary by Lorelei Yang(Photo Credit: iStockphoto.com / Nature, food, landscape, travel)