The Bureau of Indian Affairs notes that November is Native American Heritage Month in the United States, also known as American Indian, Alaska Native Heritage Month, and Indigenous Peoples’ Heritage Month. It is a time to celebrate North America’s Indigenous people’s rich and diverse ancestry, cultures, traditions, and histories. This month also gives us the opportunity to learn more about and consider supporting Indigenous peoples’ demands for recognition of harm, restoration, and repair. According to the National Congress of American Indians, it is “an opportunity to educate our workforce, raise awareness about the uniqueness of Native people, and the myriad of ways in which tribal citizens have conquered challenges to maintain voice and dignity and to remain an influencing presence in a rapidly evolving nation.”
This year’s theme, “Resilient and Enduring: We Are Native People,” reflects the determination and courage that Native American Communities continue to exhibit, sustaining the vibrant diversity, cultures, traditions, and accomplishments of America’s first people.
Learn More about Indigenous Icons
Red Fox James
Indigenous Peoples’ Heritage Month would not have been made possible without the contribution of Red Fox James. Red Fox James, who is known as a member of the Blackfeet Nation, rode horseback throughout multiple states to receive endorsements to create a day honoring American Indians. After receiving enough endorsements, the first American Indian Day was celebrated in New York on the second Saturday of May in 1916.
Thelma Chalifoux is the first appointed Canadian Senator to be an Indigenous woman and a Métis person. As a part of a Métis delegation, Chalifoux contributed to constitution talks with Prime Minister Pierre Trudeau to recognize First Nations, Metis, and Inuit individuals as separate and distinct nations. She also founded the Michif Cultural Institution, now known as the Michif Cultural Connections, in 2004 after retiring from the Senate. The Michif Cultural Connections is a museum and resource center devoted to protecting Metis culture. Chalifoux was also a co-founder of the Native Friendship Center and ran the first domestic violence shelter for women who were victims of abuse. Not only did she co-found a domestic violence shelter, but she also worked in the Company of Young Canadians to create housing and community development for Indigenous people.
Charlene Teters is an activist and artist from the Spokane Tribe and is best known for her hard work at fighting against offensive and degrading Indigenous Peoples’ stereotypes. Teters was one of the first to protest these stereotypes in 1988. As a graduate student at the University of Illinois, Teters began protesting the university’s mascot who mocked Native American tribal dances. Although changes weren’t made right away, Teters’ work eventually paid off, and the mascot was retired in 2007.
Wilma Mankiller was the first woman to be elected Chief of the Cherokee Nation in 1985. As Principal Chief, Mankiller accomplished numerous goals for the Cherokee Nation, such as advancing health care, job training, housing, and education. She also tripled tribal enrollment for the Cherokee Nation and doubled their annual revenue. Although Mankiller was the Chief from 1985 to 1995, this title did not come without a price. Mankiller experienced many obstacles, such as sexism and threats of violence against her. Despite these hardships, President Bill Clinton awarded Mankiller the Medal of Freedom in 1998.
Ben Nighthorse Campbell
In 1992, Ben Nighthorse Campbell, a Northern Cheyenne Indian, was the only Native American to serve in the U.S. Senate in more than 60 years. Before retiring from the Senate in 2005, Campbell was able to pass legislation that improved the lives of many Indigenous peoples. Not only did Campbell establish the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., but he also created Colorado’s Sand Creek Massacre National Historic Site, secured Native American water rights, prevented fetal alcohol syndrome, and protected wilderness areas during his time as Senator.
Dr. Nadine Caron
Dr. Nadine Caron, Canada’s first female First Nations general surgeon, is also a Sagamok Anishnawbek First Nation member. Dr. Caron is also a faculty member in the University of British Columbia’s Faculty (UBC) of Medicine and an associate faculty member at Johns Hopkins Center for American Indian Health. She is one of the founding co-directors of the UBC Center for Excellence in Indigenous Health. Dr. Caron is currently working on an initiative for British Columbians, specifically rural and remote First Nations communities, to have more access to research that will help fight against thyroid, colorectal, and breast cancer.
Resources to Learn and Support
American Indian Health Services of Chicago
Chicago Title VI American Indian Education Program
American Indian Association of Illinois
5 Ways to Honor Native Americans during National Native American Heritage Month
30 Day Spotlight on Native America
First Nations Child & Family Caring Society
Organizations to Support
American Indian Center of Chicago
The Chicago American Indian Community Collaborative
Mitchel Museum of the American Indian
Native Women’s Association of Canada
Native Canadian Centre of Toronto