This is a guest blog by ELGL member Tom Mortenson. Read more about Tom below!
As we approach Thanksgiving it may amaze some of us to find out that this is also National Native American Month.
While most Americans are thinking about Thanksgiving, a long four day weekend, the Macy parade, and feasting on holiday food, it should also be time to reflect on our history.
We all have visions of the first Thanksgiving, but what is missing in our understanding are an understanding of the contributions, achievements, sacrifices, together with the cultural and historical legacy of the original inhabitants: the American Indian and Alaska Native people.
Yes, we all know that American Indians and Alaska Natives are inextricably linked with our Nation’s history. For most of us our understanding begins with the Pilgrims’ arrival at Plymouth Colony but not all of us understand that Native American’s contributions are woven deeply into our Nation’s history.
Having a son-in-law and grandchildren who are members of the Ojibwa Nation (White Earth) and are part of the Anishinaabeg group of indigenous peoples in North America, I feel it is fitting and proper for us to honor our Native Americans by proclaiming November as Native American Month.
(Being from Minnesota, we know that these were the very people the Vikings encountered in route to place the Kensington Runestone in Solem, Minnesota as they explored Vinland.)
But how and why we call November National Native American Month is something that is a story in itself. To understand the importance of designating this month we need to understand some of the history behind why this is important.
Of course, we know that our Native Americans suffered many hardships. However, few of us realize that it wasn’t until 1924 that most Native Americans finally were granted full citizenship with the passage of the Snyder Act (Indian Citizenship Act of 1924) that was proposed by Representative Homer Snyder (R) of New York, and signed into law by President Calvin Coolidge.
What will amaze many is the fact that it wasn’t until 1948 that Native Americans in seven states finally gained voting rights.
Surprising to many may also be the fact that Republican Charles Curtis from Kansas, a Kaw Nation member, served as Vice President of the United States (1929 to 1933). How many of those reading this had any idea that we had a Native American serve as Vice President – the first non-European to hold that office and a Republican to boot? (Can you tell I am from Minnesota?)
But, you ask, “How did we finally come to declare National Native American Month”? Well, the quest for honoring of Native Americans took a long time.
The first time an American Indian Day was formally designated in the U.S. appears to have been in 1916, when the Governor of New York fixed the second Saturday in May for observance.
In 1968, California Governor Ronald Reagan signed a resolution designating the fourth Friday in September as American Indian Day and in 1998, the California created Native American Day as an official state holiday.
From a day, it grew into a week, when in 1976, Congress passed a resolution authorizing President Ford to proclaim a week in October as “Native American Awareness Week.”
President George H. W. Bush pushed forward a Congressional joint resolution that made November of 1990 the first official Native American Heritage Month. Since that time, Congress and the President have observed a day, a week or a month in honor of the American Indian and Alaska Native people.
In 2009, Congress passed and the President Bush signed legislation that established the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day of each year as “Native American Heritage Day.”
So you see it really isn’t black Friday, but rather a day to recognize the rich diversities of the cultures that exist in America and in this case our Native Americans.
We should remember the words of President Trump in understanding why November honors Native Americans.
In his Presidential Proclamation he notes that:
“Native Americans have influenced every stage of America’s development. They helped early European settlers survive and thrive in a new land. They contributed democratic ideas to our constitutional Framers. He goes on to cite the record of service “for more than 200 years, they have bravely answered the call to defend our Nation, serving with distinction in every branch of the United States Armed Forces. The Nation is grateful for the service and sacrifice of all American Indians and Alaska Natives”.
This year, we celebrate November 25, 2017, as Native American Heritage Day. So once you have completed going to all the sales, take time on Saturday to be with your family and loved ones and visit a Native American tribal society and learn of this living part of our Nation.
Native American Month is really about America, our heritage as one Nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal, and that our government is of the people, by the people, and for the people.
And that my friends is talking “turkey”. For additional information read more online.
About Tom Mortenson:
Tom has served in numerous government positions including a youth advisor to President Nixon, the youngest City Council President in the history of Racine, Wisconsin, Becker County Minnesota Administrator, as well as a Senior Strategic and Policy Planner who helped plan America’s response to the 9-11 terrorist attacks. He has served 39 years in the Army (National Guard, Reserve, and Active Duty). He is a noted speaker on government reform and ethics and is active in fighting human trafficking. He has two Master Degrees and is currently working on his PhD. Mortenson serves as the National President of the Scandinavian Trade Association, Vice President of the Tampa Bay International Business Council, and is active in the Centennial of Women Suffrage serving as the Minnesota National Board Member of the Turning Point National Suffragist Memorial, as well as other efforts to remember this historical event. He is married to his high school sweetheart and together they have three children and five grandchildren.