November is Native American Heritage Month! This annual month-long celebration is an opportunity to come together to honor and celebrate the culture, traditions, history, and contributions of American Indians and Alaskan Natives.
Though Native Americans make up about 2.5% of the total U.S. population, their history and contributions are of critical importance to the nation’s history. Unfortunately, much of it has been forgotten or overlooked.
As a result, misconceptions and ignorance surrounding Native peoples and Native culture can lead to the perpetuation of harmful, misinformed “celebrations” — especially surrounding the heritage month and Thanksgiving holiday. November is an opportunity to grow our understanding of Native culture, traditions, and how historical traumas like colonization and genocide have impacted Native peoples throughout history — and still do today.
This month, it’s important for each of us to remember the entirety of our nation’s history — including and especially the history of Native Americans, the systemic issues they still face today, and take supportive, uplifting action to right historic injustices.
Below, you’ll find resources and ways to uplift the Native American community nationwide and in your own community!
Native American Heritage Month History & Facts:
- Native American Heritage Month got its start as a one-day “American Indian Day” celebration in New York in May 1916, after a member of Blackfeet Nation, Red Fox James, literally rode on horseback from state to state to ask for a day to honor Native Americans.
- In 1975, President Gerald Ford turned it into a week-long “Native American Awareness Week” in October.
- While the dates shifted from year to year, in 1990 Congress officially passed a joint resolution which was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush declaring the entire month of November “National Native American Indian Heritage Month.” The name has since changed to National Native American Heritage Month.
- The 1990 resolution officially recognized Native citizens both as the country’s original inhabitants and for their essential contributions, specifically to farming and harvesting. Despite its Eurocentric perspective, the resolution was also intended to recognize the Native peoples for the ways they helped the first European visitors.
- Congress chose November to celebrate Native American Heritage month for its cultural significance as the month when Native Americans conclude their traditional harvest season.
- As of 2021, there are 574 federally recognized Tribes in the U.S. and while many Native Americans reside on reservations, about 71 percent do not.
How To Celebrate Native American Heritage Month:
Learn what native land you’re on.
Long before you lived on it, the land you’re on was occupied, managed, and maintained by Indigenous people and tribes. Land is sacred and important to all of us — whether we know it or not — and it’s important to learn about the history of the land you’re on. Not only does it honor the people it was taken from, it helps us honor and steward the land better.
The Canadian nonprofit Native Land has done extensive research and worked with Native tribes to create an interactive map of tribal boundaries around the world — you can even enter your exact address!
Enjoy Indigenous art.
The Denver Art Museum was one of the first art museums in the U.S. to start collecting Indigenous art, and as a result, their collection is both extensive and enlightening. The artists each have a beautiful, unique way of helping us all understand histories and lived experiences — both heartbreaking and uplifting — of Native Americans.
Google Arts & Culture created a unique, digital experience to guide you through some of the Denver Art Museum’s more than 18,000 pieces by artists from more than 250 Indigenous nations.
Follow Native Americans on social media.
The best way to celebrate Native American heritage is by listening to and learning from Native American people who generously share their perspective and wisdom with all of us on social media. By (quietly and humbly) following Native creators, we can learn about the current triumphs and struggles Native Americans face — and how we can help.
Check out a few of our favorite follows:
Kaitlin B. Curtice (@KaitlinCurtice on Twitter) is a citizen of Potawatomi Nation, and is an award-winning author, poet, and public speaker.
Elizabeth Hidalgo Reese (@yunpovi on Twitter) is a Pueblo assistant professor of law at Harvard University, and uses her platform to share about Indian law, constitutional law, race, and voting.
Jordan Daniel (@nativein_la on Instagram) is a Lakota professional athlete and founder of Rising Hearts, an Indigenous led grassroots group devoted to elevating Indigenous voices and promoting intersectional collaborative efforts across all movements with the goals of racial, social, climate, and economic justice.
Jasilyn Charger (@jasilyncharger on Instagram) is a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe who, after noticing the mental health crisis among teens in the Cheyenne River Reservation started the One Mind Youth Movement with her friends.
You can also explore this list of incredible Indigenous activists you should know about.
Learn about the challenges Native American communities have faced.
Part of helping make the world a better place for everyone is by paying attention to the heartbreak, pain, and injustices — this is the only way we are able to work toward creating solutions. And while the history of Indigenous peoples is one of perseverance and triumph, it is also one of great injustice, oppression, and heartbreak.
- According to the Department of the Interior, approximately 1,500 American Indian and Alaska Native missing persons have been reported to the National Crime Information Center in the U.S. An estimated 2,700 murder cases have also been reported.
- Starting with the Indian Civilization Act of 1819, the U.S. government, in partnership primarily with churches and private organizations, established boarding schools with the stated goal of “civilizing” Native Americans, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians — often carried out through torture and abuse. An Interior Department report found more than 500 Native children died over 150 years in Indigenous boarding schools, but Native Nations scholars estimate the figure is closer to 40,000 children.
- Hawaii is regularly exploited for its abundant beauty and resources, most notably by tourism and the military. The latest in a series of water crises caused by military presence on the islands, 1,000 gallons of raw sewage leaked into Pearl Harbor, just days after the state’s health department fined the Navy almost $9 million for safety violations in its wastewater treatment plant.
- According to the Department of Health and Human Services’ latest report, Native American adults had higher rates of serious suicidal thoughts and were more likely to make a suicide plan in the past year compared to other racial or ethnic groups.
- The proliferation of stereotypes also leads to frequent disrespectful, extremely offensive cultural displays, from professional sports team names to headdresses or bonnets worn by non-Natives.
While this list is incomplete, we hope it serves as a starting point for allyship and advocacy in support of Native American communities.
Learn about Native American good news.
While it’s important to be aware of challenges and injustices, no community should be defined solely by those experiences.
At Good Good Good, we share meaningful good news — and we’ve collected a few of our favorite good news stories of incredible contributions from Native American communities.
Here are just a few of the many things to celebrate:
- Native Nations have been successfully building and rebuilding their communities, in health care, education, justice, and more.
- Despite both having technological barriers and being one of the most at-risk groups for coronavirus early on in the pandemic and vaccine rollout, Native tribes were an early leader in vaccinations. They were so efficient and successful at rolling out vaccines, tribes were even able to help neighboring communities and general public.
- Bison are being reintroduced to Native lands, which offer the space they need and a culture that has long-respected the animals — and now they’re making a major comeback.
- Ownership and management of a 532-acre redwood forest in California was recently returned to Sinkyone tribes and has been renamed Tc’ih-Léh-Dûñ.
- Within 100 days of the Biden Administration taking office, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland (more good news: she’s the first Indigenous person to hold the role) formed a special Missing & Murdered Unit specifically to investigate missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.
- Cherokee artists worked together to create a ‘groundbreaking’ Cherokee-language album, using music to preserve and celebrate the language.
- Through “DeTours,” Hawaii’s Indigenous communities are working to educate settlers and tourists alike on Hawaii and its colonial past and present and raising awareness about the state of their country.
- Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, an enrolled member of the Laguna Pueblow has started the process of renaming public lands with derogatory names — starting with a term offensive to Indigenous women that’s on 650 places on federal land.
- A community of Indigenous activists called Water Protectors is continually working to protect water and water systems across the U.S. — and we all have them to thank for so many harmful projects, both for people and the planet, getting canceled.
- … and more Indigenous good news
Read books written by Indigenous authors and poets.
By the way, some of the links below (like, links to books) may be affiliate links — which means Good Good Good may earn a commission if you make a purchase, at no cost to you!
Support and learn from Indigenous authors and poets! Though the publishing industry has a diversity problem, change is possible.
Not only are the stories valuable and important on their own, but when you boost stories written by Indigenous authors, you help demonstrate that you want to keep hearing from these voices and experiences.
For kids, we recommend: Kapaemahu by Hinaleimoana Wong-Kalu, Joe Wilson, and Dean Hamer (a book about an Indigenous Hawaiian legend), Keepunumuk: Weeâchumun’s Thanksgiving Story by Danielle Greendeer, Anthony Perry, and Alexis Bunten, Berry Song by Michaela Goade (a book about seasons and land), and Tanna’s Lemming by Rachel Qitsualik-Tinsley and Sean Qitsualik-Tinsley.
For adults, we recommend: Spirit Matters: White Clay, Red Exits, Distant Others by Gordon Henry (a collection of poems), We Are the Middle of Forever: Indigenous Voices from Turtle Island on the Changing Earth edited by Dahr Jamail and Stan Rushworth (a collection of conversations with Indigenous communities about climate change), Fresh Banana Leaves: Healing Indigenous Landscapes Through Indigenous Science by Jessica Hernandez (a book about land conservation), and Braiding Sweetgrass by Robin Wall Kimmerer (a collection of essays).
While all of the books mentioned above are available on Amazon, we recommend using Bookshop.org so you can set your default bookstore to an Indigenous-owned bookstore. From then on, every purchase you make will directly support that bookstore.
Listen to audiobooks written or narrated by Indigenous authors and poets.
We love Libro.fm and its mission to support locally owned bookshops through audiobook purchases. (Plus, it’s another great Amazon alternative.)
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, they’re highlighting Indigenous-owned bookstores, Indigenous authors, and Indigenous narrators.
Listeners can browse through their extensive library and find content aimed at empowering, learning, and celebrating the Indigenous experience.
You can also choose to support an Indigenous-owned bookstore — on Libro.fm or in person. Check out this map to find one to support.
Watch a documentary.
Native American history is American history. A great way to make sure you both grow in knowledge and are well-informed in November is by watching a documentary (or a few) this month.
We recommend watching We Shall Remain, a five-part PBS American Experience series about Native Americans’ longtime struggle for land, the Wampanoags and the first Thanksgiving, and a brutal war started by the colonists. Also, Reel Injun: On the Trail of the Hollywood Indian, another PBS documentary which explores the history and stereotypes of Native Americans in film.
Learn what Land Back means.
You may see, hear, or read the phrase “Land Back” this month, and on an ongoing basis among Indigenous people and communities. As there are hundreds of Native tribes, and even more folks who belong to those tribes, Native Americans aren’t a monolith — and “Land Back” may mean different things to different people and groups.
Land Back can mean the literal return of stolen lands to Indigenous people and tribes, the complete freedom to maintain and manage those lands in line with historic and cultural traditions, stewardship and protection of the planet in general, honoring government treaties and their provisions, and more.
The most important thing is to listen to these ideas with an open mind.
Plant native plants.
Due in large part to a sacred connection to the land and its resources, Native Americans are experts at land management. Indigenous knowledge when it comes to soil and ecosystem health is unparalleled and we’d do well to heed their wisdom, experience, and direction.
Unfortunately, due to climate change and a lack of this knowledge in positions of leadership, non-native plants have increasingly found their way into local, regional, and national ecosystems. While you may have an appreciation for a particular non-native plant, Indigenous knowledge teaches us that they can be extremely harmful to a native ecosystem, disrupting both other plants and wildlife.
Use the National Wildlife Federation’s Native Plant Finder to both make sure the plants you have now are native, and to find new or better ones to plant based on where you live.
On a more local level, visit a nature center, garden club, local garden, or botanical garden to get really specific information about what plants are best for the climate and critters that live by you!
(You can also switch to Ecosia to plant native trees for free just by searching the internet.)
Care for water.
We can all take a lesson from Water Protectors, a group of cultural organizers and Indigenous activists who believe in the sacred nature of water and land. Water is so easily accessible for most of us, we often take it for granted.
But there’s a lot that goes into keeping our water safe, clean, and accessible. On a larger scale, more and more of our rivers, oceans, and other waterways are being polluted with plastic — which is harmful to water, marine life, and the larger ecosystem our survival depends on.
We can all care for water by properly disposing of our trash and recyclables, advocating and voting for policies that protect water and water infrastructure (no more pipelines!), donating to waterway cleanup efforts, and perhaps most importantly, learning from Indigenous communities’ water management practices.
Support Native American-owned businesses
There are undoubtedly Native American-owned businesses near you. Make sure to seek them out and support them — during November and all year long.
You can also explore Native American-owned businesses online. Check out this article that highlights several amazing brands.
Donate to Native American-led nonprofits.
The Native American Rights Fund (NARF) nonprofit uses legal advocacy to ensure rights and resources of Native Americans are protected, treaties are upheld, and more. It also works to address injustices like voter suppression, which are the result of a history of broken promises and human rights violations.
Indigenous Women Rising is a nonprofit working to ensure equitable healthcare access for Native American and Indigenous women. They prioritize offering culturally sensitive care, sex education, and resources, as well as access to safe, legal, and affordable abortion options.
Honor the Earth is an Indigenous-led organization that has worked on environmental protection projects like the “Stop Line 3” campaign. As the only Native organization providing both funding and organizing support to Native environmental issues, they are working to change both systems that lead to destruction — and minds to remember our “collective humanity and joint dependence on the Earth.”
Create an informative email auto-response.
If your company is closed for November holidays, create an email auto-response that also includes mention of Native American Heritage Month.
Continuing to share information with people about the historic significance of this holiday is a great way to further stand in solidarity with Indigenous team members and clients.
Highlight Native American Heritage Month in your newsletter.
Similar to drafting an informative email response, utilizing your current email marketing platforms is a great way to share more about Native American Heritage Month.
This could mean including a sentence or two, an entire section, or an entire standalone email in your newsletter acknowledging Native American Heritage Month and how readers can thoughtfully celebrate. (Maybe even share this article as a resource.)
Turn your good intentions into real change.
Workplace actions should go beyond just celebrating Native American Heritage Month or other holidays and awareness months. If you want to help ensure that your good intentions are actually helping, it’s going to take intentionality and expertise.
Talk to your kids about Native American history.
Often, the only exposure our kids have to learn about Native American history, especially in the month of November, is whitewashed, colonialized versions of the Thanksgiving story. And contrary to popular belief, kids have the ability to process complex information when it’s presented in a developmentally appropriate way.
Look up what Native land you live on and then research to learn more about those tribes together. Talk about how Native peoples were mistreated, taken advantage of, and even killed by the early settlers, and how we can all be a part of making sure those injustices are both made right, and never repeated.
Practice saving funds for regular donations.
If your kiddos have an allowance or lemonade stand, chances are, you’re hoping to teach them the value of money. Extend that conversation to include discussions of community care, mutual aid, fundraising, and wealth redistribution.
These topics can feel like big or confusing ideas, but encourage your children to save some of their money in a special jar that they can use to support an organization or community member of their choice down the road.
You don’t need to give them a full explainer on capitalism (or do, we won’t stop you!), but you can teach them how to use their privileges in ways that help their neighbors.
Perhaps you can head to the library and research different fundraising ideas, read about various causes or social movements, and make this a learning experience for the whole family.
For Teachers & Students
Use Native American Heritage Month Lesson plans at school.
Teachers have such an incredible opportunity to teach students of all ages a more truthful, accurate picture of the history, heritage, and culture of Native Americans than perhaps has been taught in the past.
Per the many Native activists and advocates who’ve asked, skip the pilgrim hats, Indian headdresses, and whitewashed retelling of the Thanksgiving story this Native American Heritage Month. Instead, utilize the Teacher’s Guide created by the National Endowment for the Humanities, which will help you teach your students about the culture and histories of Native Americans in the U.S.
You can also use Native Land’s “The Land You Live On” education guide, which has instructions for using their Native Land app, explains the importance of understanding colonialism, and includes exercises for teachers with students of all ages — from kids to adults.
More Native American Heritage Month Activities
Listen to Indigenous music.
Add some Indigenous music to your playlist rotation this month! According to Howard Paden, executive director of the Cherokee Nation Language Department, “An Indigenous language is lost every two weeks around the world.”
But Indigenous people are finding creative ways to preserve their language. Recently, Cherokee filmmaker and creator Jeremy Charles, in collaboration with nonprofit Horton Records, recently announced the production of a groundbreaking contemporary album of original music performed entirely in the Cherokee language.
We also recommend checking out Urban Native Era’s expansive collection of Indigenous music playlists on Spotify.
Visit national parks that celebrate Native American heritage.
National Parks across the U.S. are working to preserve and share the stories, histories, heritage, and traditions of Indigenous peoples. This month, those parks will host special celebrations and educational opportunities for Native American Heritage Month.
Find a National Park near you and make a plan to visit one this month!
(Pro tip: You can visit National Parks for free this month on Veteran’s Day on November 11!)
One way to support, celebrate, and honor Native communities is to simply show up. Search for local events in your town to see if there are any events, readings, or even protests that aim to support Native people, culture, and Native rights.
Facebook’s events tab and sites like Meetup or Eventbrite are easy ways to find out what is happening near you.
Important note: If you do attend an event or celebration, make sure you understand the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation.
Appreciation seeks to understand and learn from another culture to broaden your perspective and connect with someone from that culture.
Appropriation takes a cultural aspect that is not your own and uses it for your own personal interest, without understanding the cultural significance — though often done unintentionally, it can be deeply offensive and harmful.
Frequently Asked Questions:
When did Native American Heritage Month become a holiday?
In 1990 Congress officially passed a joint resolution which was signed into law by President George H. W. Bush declaring the entire month of November “National Native American Indian Heritage Month.” It has since been renamed Native American Heritage Month.
Is it still called Native American Heritage Month?
In the years since 1990, presidents have made similar resolutions and proclamations, sometimes under different names, like National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month. In 2021, President Biden issued a proclamation for National Native American Heritage Month.
What are the dates for Native American Heritage Month?
Native American Heritage Month takes place from November 1st through November 31st each year.
What is the theme for Native American Heritage Month 2022?
While many pride and heritage months have a theme for each annual celebration, National Native American Heritage Month doesn’t have any specific unified themes being celebrated this year.