It all started in 1914 when a Blackfoot Indian, Red Fox James, rode horseback throughout the states to gain approval for a day to honor Indians.
In 1915 with Dr. Arthur C. Parker. Himself a Seneca Indian, he persuaded the Boy Scouts to honor the “First Americans” on one day a year. That same year at the Congress of the American Indian Association meeting, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapaho and president at the meeting, was directed to call upon the country to observe a day for the Native American. He issued a proclamation calling for the second Saturday of each May as American Indian Day. Along with this proclamation was a formal appeal to recognize Indians as U.S. Citizens.
At the end of 1915, Red Fox James presented endorsements from 24 state governments supporting a day to honor the Native American.
The only thing that came from all this work at that time was New York Governor Charles Whitman’s recognition of the first state-sponsored American Indian Day in May of 1916.
It was not until 1985 that Congress designated an American Indian Heritage Week.” This was recognized for four years until 1989. It was the path which led to legislation designating November as Native American Heritage Month.
Native Americans Today
According to the 2007 Census, 4.5 million people claim American Indian or Alaskan Native heritage. They make up only 1.5 percent of the total population. There are 537,500 American Indian and Alaska native families in the U.S.
Currently there are 562 tribal governments in the United States recognized by the federal government. Each tribe can form its own government and enforces its own laws, establishes its own taxes and regulates its own activities. These tribes do not have the power to make war, to engage in foreign relations or to make their own money, just as the individual states of the United States also do not have these powers.
Native Americans continue to struggle for survival. Out of the 562 federally recognized tribes in the United States, only about 40% of those tribes operate successful casinos. Only about 1 percent of Native Americans own and operate a business.
A lack of capital, federal and/or tribal support, education and opportunity, natural resources and control over natural resources are but a few of the obstacles Native Americans face when it comes to economic development.
In addition to economic struggles, Native Americans also experience greater health risks than other Americans. In numbers greater in proportion to their population than other populations, Native Americans suffer from diabetes, heart disease, drug addiction, alcoholism and suicide.
The largest tribes in the U.S. are Navajo, Cherokee, Choctaw, Sioux, Chippewa, Apache, Blackfeet, Iroquois, and Pueblo. Over 165,000 Native Americans and Alaska Natives are veterans of the United States Armed Forces.
On the upside, there are Native Americans who own and run successful businesses outside of casinos. More than 24,000 firms are American Indian and Alaska Native owned with paid employees. Nearly 200,000 people were employed by these companies. More than 3,000 firms owned by Native Americans and Alaska Natives have receipts of $1 million or more. Sadly, these firms represent only 2% of the Native American population.
Though Native Americans have assimilated into the overall American culture, they continue to struggle for survival while retaining their culture and heritage.
The Inspiration for Rosebud
The inspiration for “Rosebud” the heralded child’s sled from the movie “Citizen Kane” (1941) may well have its roots in Native American history.
On the Smithsonian Magazine website, there is a child’s sled on display. Although the precise tribal origin of this sled is unknown, it is made from the ribs of a bison, it is definitely made by Native Americans and quite possibly used by American Indian children to hurtle down snow-covered slopes.
The real story is about how the Smithsonian came into possession of the sled and from whence it came. Owen Edwards does a wonderful job of telling the story.
Celebrating Native American Heritage Month
Attend a Native American Powwow. These celebrations occur year-round throughout the United States. Native American music, dancing, dress, food and crafts display the beauty and creativity of Native Americans. A number of websites list Powwows by month and you could attend one close to you.
Visit a Native American store online or in person. American Indians and Alaskan Natives own 201,387 businesses according to the 2007 Census. Native American art, jewelry, clothing and other items can be found in stores both online and in the real world.
Check out library materials. Learning more about Native American culture and heritage is what Native American Heritage month is all about. A local library will have books, videos and other media to help anyone learn more about Native Americans.
Help children learn more about Native American culture. Children can make headdresses from construction paper or totem poles from blocks of wood, Styrofoam® blocks or balls or bars of soap or they can make headdress from construction paper or leather or craft Native American rattles.
Host a Native American Heritage event. Make it a celebration. Include a movie or music, serve Native American food, have children make headdresses from construction paper or Native American rattles. Invite people to wear colorful clothing if not authentic Native American dress.
Native American Food Recipes
Here are a few recipes of Native American dishes:
Winter Corn Chowder
Yield: 1 pot
1 1/2 c Dried corn
6 sl Bacon
4 c Milk
1/2 ts Salt
3 c Broth
2 c Chopped onion
2 ts Sugar
Rinse corn and combine with broth in saucepan; bring to boil. Remove from heat and allow to stand for 2 hours, then cook for 45 minutes. Cook bacon in skillet until crisp. Drain. Cook onion in drippings. Add to corn mixture and simmer 5 minutes. Add milk, sugar, and salt; sprinkle with bacon.
Pinole (Hot Corn Drink)
2 c blue or white cornmeal
1/2 c sugar
1/2 ts cinnamon
Brown the cornmeal in a hot 425 degree oven for 8-10 minutes by spreading in a thin layer on a cookie sheet, stirring several times to prevent scorching. Add sugar and cinnamon and use like cocoa in about the same proportions, stirred into hot milk and simmered for 15 minutes.
Pima Poshol Soup
Yield: 1 pot
2 c White tepary beans
Salt to taste
1 lg Soup bone
2 c Whole wheat kernels
Wash beans, wheat and soup bone. Put in large pot and cover with boiling water. Cover and cook until beans are tender, about 4 hours. Add salt the first hour. Serve with warm tortillas.
Yield: 1 batch
2 c Whole wheat flour
2 1/2 ts Salt
1 T Shortening or lard
2 ts Baking powder
2 c White flour
Water or milk to make dough
Mix both flours, baking powder and salt in a large bowl. Work in shortening thoroughly. Add liquid gradually to make a stiff dough. Knead for 5 minutes until springy. Roll dough into small balls. Roll balls until round and flatten. Heat large iron griddle to very hot. Place tortilla onto ungreased hot griddle. Brown on one side about 2 mins., turn over, and brown other side.
1 five-pound pumpkin
5 c sugar
1 tb baking soda
Peel and seed pumpkin. Cut pumpkin into 2″ x 4″ strips. Stir baking soda into enough water to cover strips and let stand 12 hours, then drain and wash strips in running water. Drop pumpkin into pot of boiling water, and cook until tender but not soft. Remove and crisp in ice water; drain. Mix sugar with one cup water and boil 10 minutes. Add pumpkin and simmer in covered pot until syrup is thick and strips are brittle. Spread strips to dry. May be stored when cold.
Yield: 4 servings
1/2 Small pumpkin
3 T Butter
1 ts Salt
3 c Hot milk
2 qt Water
1 T Brown sugar
1/4 ts White pepper
Hot pepper sauce
Cut pumpkin into chunks and remove seeds and fiber. Pare off any bumpy outer skin. Cook in water until tender. Drain; put through sieve. In soup pot, combine 2 c. pumpkin puree with butter, sugar, and seasonings. Stir with wooden spoon over low heat for three minutes. Add milk, one cup at a time. When well blended, stir to heat through. Serve with toasted bread cubes. Tabasco sauce will add zip. Serves 4.
Oneida Corn Soup
Yield: 1 batch
Cook corn in water with bits of venison, wild edible greens like cowslip, ferns, or milk weed and a handful of wild rice.
Pueblo Corn Pudding
2 c green corn cut from cob
1 zucchini, diced fine
2 tb shelled sunflower seeds or shelled roasted pinon nuts, diced fine
1 small sweet green pepper, diced fine
Put all ingredients in blender or mash until milky, bring to boil and simmer until thick like pudding. Serve hot with butter or chile sauce.
Hopi Corn Stew
1 c ground goat meat (or beef)
2 c green corn, cut from cobs
1 sm sweet green pepper, chopped
1 c summer squash, cubed
1 tb whole wheat flour
Salt (to taste)
Fry meat in a little fat (shortening or cooking oil) until brown. Add rest of ingredients (except flour) and cover with water. Simmer until vegetables are almost tender. Stir 2 tb cooking water with 1 tb whole wheat flour, return to cook pot, simmer five more minutes while stirring. Add blue corn meal dumplings if desired.
Blue Corn Dumplings
1 c harinilla (blue corn meal ground to flour)
2 t baking powder
1 t bacon drippings, lard, or other shortening
1/3 to 1/2 c milk
1 t salt
Mix (or sift) dry ingredients thoroughly, cut in fat and add enough milk to make drop batter. Drop by spoonfuls on top of the stew of your choice. Cover cooking pot and steam dumplings 15 minutes before lifting cover. Stew should be kept bubbling. Serves 4-6.
Indian Fry Bread
Yield: 1 batch
3 c Flour
Enough cooking oil for pan
1/2 ts Salt
1 1/4 ts Baking powder
1 1/3 c Warm water
Mix flour, baking powder and salt. Add warm water and knead until dough is soft, not sticky. Stretch and pat dough until thin. Tear off one piece at a time; poke a hole in the center. Drop into skillet of hot cooking oil. Brown on both sides. Serve hot. Very good with honey or dusted with powdered sugar. Makes delicious hamburger buns and is great as a taco shell.