Presidential Proclamation on Native American Heritage Month

In Native American Heritage Month, Obama, Presidential proclamation by Adrienne K.6 Comments

 (Obama on the Crow reservation, source here)

Every year since 1990, the president of the United States has issued a proclamation declaring the month of November as “National Native American Heritage Month.” As a result, November often brings an influx of “Native American Awareness” programming at local libraries, schools, and community organizations, culminating with the one day Indians come up in casual conversation–Thanksgiving. I thought I would share Obama’s presidential proclamation, which he issued at the end of last month. I’m curious how everyone will perceive the language choices throughout, and what was included and excluded. The proclamation is also posted in full on this site.

The White House
Office of the Press Secretary
October 29, 2010
Presidential Proclamation — National Native American Heritage Month

For millennia before Europeans settled in North America, the indigenous peoples of this continent flourished with vibrant cultures and were the original stewards of the land. From generation to generation, they handed down invaluable cultural knowledge and rich traditions, which continue to thrive in Native American communities across our country today. During National Native American Heritage Month, we honor and celebrate their importance to our great Nation and our world.

America’s journey has been marked both by bright times of progress and dark moments of injustice for American Indians and Alaska Natives. Since the birth of America, they have contributed immeasurably to our country and our heritage, distinguishing themselves as scholars, artists, entrepreneurs, and leaders in all aspects of our society. Native Americans have also served in the United States Armed Forces with honor and distinction, defending the security of our Nation with their lives. Yet, our tribal communities face stark realities, including disproportionately high rates of poverty, unemployment, crime, and disease. These disparities are unacceptable, and we must acknowledge both our history and our current challenges if we are to ensure that all of our children have an equal opportunity to pursue the American dream. From upholding the tribal sovereignty recognized and reaffirmed in our Constitution and laws to strengthening our unique nation-to- nation relationship, my Administration stands firm in fulfilling our Nation’s commitments.

Over the past 2 years, we have made important steps towards working as partners with Native Americans to build sustainable and healthy native communities. The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act continues to impact the lives of American Indians and Alaska Natives, including through important projects to improve, rebuild, and renovate schools so our children can get the education and skills they will need to compete in the global economy. At last year’s White House Tribal Nations Conference, I also announced a new consultation process to improve communication and coordination between the Federal Government and tribal governments.

This year, I was proud to sign the landmark Affordable Care Act, which permanently reauthorized the Indian Health Care Improvement Act, a cornerstone of health care for American Indians and Alaska Natives. This vital legislation will help modernize the Indian health care system and improve health care for 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. To combat the high rates of crime and sexual violence in Native communities, I signed the Tribal Law and Order Act in July to bolster tribal law enforcement and enhance their abilities to prosecute and fight crime more effectively. And, recently, my Administration reached a settlement in a lawsuit brought by Native American farmers against the United States Department of Agriculture that underscores our commitment to treat all our citizens fairly.

As we celebrate the contributions and heritage of Native Americans during this month, we also recommit to supporting tribal self-determination, security, and prosperity for all Native Americans. While we cannot erase the scourges or broken promises of our past, we will move ahead together in writing a new, brighter chapter in our joint history.

NOW, THEREFORE, I, BARACK OBAMA, President of the United States of America, by virtue of the authority vested in me by the Constitution and the laws of the United States, do hereby proclaim November 2010 as National Native American Heritage Month. I call upon all Americans to commemorate this month with appropriate programs and activities, and to celebrate November 26, 2010, as Native American Heritage Day.

IN WITNESS WHEREOF, I have hereunto set my hand this twenty-ninth day of October, in the year of our Lord two thousand ten, and of the Independence of the United States of America the two hundred and thirty-fifth.


So what do you think? I was initially struck by the first paragraph, it seems a little cliched, and very much past-centric. I would venture to guess that most Americans already think of American Indians as only existing in the past, so it could have been more powerful to start with a statement that strongly affirmed our current presence and continued existence. Instead, it seems to honor our past rather than our present and future…but that’s just my opinion. I’d love to hear your thoughts. In addition, what do you think about having a “Native American Heritage Month” in general?

More information about Native American Heritage Month:

  • I believe Clinton was the first President to confront Native issues at all, but I’m just glad for the press Obama is giving to Native people. I think any talk of these issues is good and it confronts America’s ideas of fair treatment under law. Since Native people are considered “extra-constitutional”, these acts are necessary to compensate for areas where our civil rights are not covered. It’s about time the history of sexual violence is addressed by our nation’s President! I also like that he spoke about joint history and the importance of Native people to America.

    As for criticisms, I agree, he spoke too much of the past. He could focus a little more on the education of the general public concerning these issues so that people understand why these laws are necessary.

  • @Dianna B. Actually, and it pains me greatly to say this, but I know that Richard Nixon (ugh) confronted Native issues–specifically the federal policy of termination–during his (very flawed) presidency.

    Whenever I think of a specific heritage month I am reminded of the Chris Rock routine during which he points out that African American Heritage Month is the shortest month of the year.

    I’m usually not a fan of these types of months, days, etc. It seems to give people an excuse to ignore Native issues the rest of the year and to “other-ize” them.

  • I think some of you are looking for a slight where there isn’t one. As contemporary Natives a lot of our efforts are focused on ensuring that people recognize that we’re people, fully developed humans, & we aren’t some dead culture from America’s ‘frontier past’. This is called Native American Heritage Month now, BUT it used to be called American Indian History Month (to coincide with the older celebrations of Black History Month & Women’s History Month). The focus was on the accomplishments of each group’s past to emphasize that they were important contributors to America’s overall history & to encourage people to learn more than just the WASP version of the world. A large part of the motivation for these celebrations was the numerous studies & reports citing that America had a decidedly white-washed male dominated history taught in schools. Where were the historical figures of other races? Where were the women? The movement then expanded to including the truth about the history kids are already taught (like the 1st Thanksgiving is a myth & Columbus wasn’t such a nice guy). I think these celebrations are necessary until we get rid of that holiday in October & kids stop being taught about the first Thanksgiving & other lies & myths in their U.S. History classes.

    Perhaps I come from a unique perspective as I’ve worked for the DoD for many years where, as a federal agency, we were required to observe all of the federally recognized cultural/historical months/days. There are roughly 9-10 of them (some fluctuated over time). I served on the committee that prepared each month’s/day’s observances & as part of this celebration we always included the president’s proclamation.

    They ALL go – 1) recognize the past, 2) mention contributions which MUST include mention of military service, 3) mention current challenges, 4) state what our administration is doing, 5) wrap it all up with some promises, 6) required proclamation language.

    I’ve never seen a single one vary from this format. Some have been better than others (the baby Bush years were pretty thin on the “here’s how we’re helping” so they fluffed them up with names of famous people from each group).

    As far as this one goes, it’s pretty standard. It’s not the worst I’ve seen (baby Bush) and it’s not the best I’ve seen (Clinton).

  • i think it’s about freakin time we have something… but it would be a lot nicer if they were doing more.

  • I think that having a month is a teeny tiny itty bitty step in the right direction just enough to make people aware of the fact that it’s ridiculous to have just a month of Native American history.

    Like having an “African American” history month.

    It’s history, PERIOD.

  • I’d really love to see some mention of what’s going to happen to Native American political prisoners: Released Leonard Peltier yet?

    I won’t hold my breath, though. Also, still, no apologies for the atrocities committed against indigenous people on North American soil.

    Perhaps I’m being greedy, but I want more. This speech smacks of vacuous lip service, and nothing more. It’s sort of an “Oh look, Native Americans still exist. Okay I’ve drawn your attention to them, moving on…” and that is not good enough for me.