Skip to main content

Celebrates the diverse cultures, traditions, histories and contributions of American Indian and Alaska Native peoples in the United States.

History of Native American Heritage Month

November is Native American Heritage Month. The appeal for a formal recognition day for Native American peoples has been in the works since the early 1900s. Arthur Parker, a member of the Seneca Nation of Indians, who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, NY, was one of the first proponents of a day that recognized Native peoples. In 1916, New York became the first state to declare a day of recognition.

Others carried on Parker’s call for formal recognition, including Red Fox James, a member of the Blackfoot Nation who visited 24 states seeking support. While multiple U.S. presidents proclaimed a day, week or month to recognize Native American heritage, actual dates and observances were inconsistent.

It wasn’t until 1990 that Congress passed a resolution authorizing and requesting President George H.W. Bush to proclaim November, and every November after, as National Native American Heritage Month. President Bush signed the legislation, and each November, the incumbent president delivers a proclamation. Here’s the proclamation signed by President Joe Biden.

In 2009, Congress passed the Native American Heritage Day Act and President Barack Obama signed legislation that established the Friday following Thanksgiving Day as “Native American Heritage Day.”

First Peoples

Along with celebration, it is equally important to understand that Native Americans are the First Peoples of this land who were here long before white settlers arrived. They suffered greatly under colonization and the genocide, mass relocation and forced assimilation that followed. The American Museum of Natural History offers a suite of videos of Native voices along the Northwest coast sharing both the diversity of Native cultures and the impact of settlers on the culture.

Learn about land acknowledgment

Puget Sound was first inhabited by the Coast Salish peoples. To acknowledge this land is to learn and recognize the lived history of Indigenous peoples

Native and Indigenous peoples have been reclaiming their ancestral homelands through Land Back movements. Land Back campaigns promote a return to communal land ownership and provide meaningful space for traditional practices and cultural observances.

Read the University Land Acknowledgment.

Email signature

Celebrate the month and support colleagues by adding an icon to your email signature.


The icon depicts a Medicine Wheel — a significant Native American symbol for health and healing. Visit the UW Medicine brand site to download the signature. If you need instructions on how to add an email signature, visit one of the following Microsoft Office support pages:

Zoom background

Visit the UW Medicine brand site to download the background.


Download a PDF of the poster.