President Barack Obama proclaimed this the month to honor “American Indians and Native Alaskans” for their contributions to the U.S., just like he did last year and the year before that.
You can read his proclamations from over the years:
Here’s 2009‘s, here is 2010‘s and here is the one from this year. Compare and contrast. They all say basically the same thing, and it’s easy to imagine the bullet points given the speechwriter(s). There are shades of differences, however, for those inclined toward further study.
Before anyone gets all agitated, it should be noted that President Barack Obama is not the one who dreamed up National Native American Heritage Month. For details on its history, go to this page from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and read the timeline.
You could say it’s a thing from the administration of President Ronald Reagan. Although the original idea to honor Native Americans in such a way goes back more than a century, the movement didn’t pick up speed on the national level until the late 1960s and early 1970s. President Gerry Ford was the first to make an official declaration, naming a week in October of 1976 “Native American Awareness Week.” But there was just the one.
President Reagan designated a week in 1983, then again each year from 1986 through 1988. President George H.W. Bush followed suit in 1989, picking a week in December. Then Bush went big, and in 1990 he declared November to be National American Heritage Month.
It’s been that way ever since, with the exception of 1992, when President George H.W. Bush made the whole year an appreciation of American Indians and Native Alaskans. That was to make up for all the celebrating going on over the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus finding America (oops!).
President Obama has simply followed in the footsteps of the last few presidents. That’s how these National Such-n-Such Month things work. Once you get a president to do it once, the rest of them have to keep doing it. Would you want to be known as the president who stopped celebrating Native American Heritage Month or National Diabetes Month or Jesus-shaped Peanut Appreciation Month? No, no you would not.
And finally, here’s a question: what about Hawaiians? Where do they fit in?