Native American Heritage Day 2021

Twelve years ago, President Barack Obama signed a resolution designating the Friday after Thanksgiving as “Native American Heritage Day.” The resolution had unanimous support in the Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. The resolution capped the bill President George W. Bush signed into law introduced by Congressman Joe Baca (D-Calif.) to designate the Friday after Thanksgiving as Native American Heritage Day.

President Obama stated, “I encourage every American to join me in observing Native American Heritage Day … It is also important for all of us to understand the rich culture, tradition, and history of Native Americans and their status today, and to appreciate the contributions that First Americans have made and will continue to make to our Nation.”

Issues with Native American Heritage Day

However, the holiday was only formally supported by 184 out of 567 federally recognized tribes. Some tribal leaders did not want the holiday occurring on the same day as the notoriously commercial Black Friday.

The purpose of the holiday is to honor the heritage, culture of American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiian peoples. Over 5 million native Americans are living in 37 states. Only two states have formally recognized the holiday; Maryland and Washington.

Issues Confronting Native Americans

Indian Child - Native American Heritage Day

Over the past year, there has been increasing awareness of the long-lasting effects of Canadian and American government policy of running Indian Boarding Schools. Native American children from around Michigan and those from Minnesota, Wisconsin, and New York attended the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School. The campus included 37 buildings on 320 acres of land with an average enrolment of 300 American Indian children in grades K-8 every year. From 1893 through 1934, the school was in operation.

Indian Boarding Schools were specifically designed to eradicate American Indian cultures, languages, and spirituality. Once enrolled, students had to accept the white culture, speak only English, and adopt and practice Christianity.

The U.S. government has yet to recognize its participation in the operation of American Indian boarding schools. However, American Indian groups and organizations are spearheading the “Journey for Forgiveness.” Over the last ten years, “Journey for Forgiveness” marches have been held at each former American Indian boarding school to raise awareness and begin the process of healing American Indian people, families, and communities affected by the boarding school era.

The National Day of Remembrance for Indian Boarding Schools, also known as Orange Shirt Day, was held on September 30, 2021. It commemorates survivors and honors those who did not return home.

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