Native American Heritage Month

  • Published
  • By DEOMI

The month of November is designated by Congress and the President as a time to reflect on the rich traditions and accomplishments, as well as the suffering and injustices, which mark the history of American Indians and Alaska Natives. National American Indian Heritage Month celebrates and recognizes the accomplishments of the peoples who were the original inhabitants, explorers, and settlers of the United States. Currently, there are 567 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and more than 100 state-recognized tribes across the United States. Each with their own unique history, beliefs, governance structure and culture.


Historically, American Indians have the highest record of military service per capita when compared to other ethnic groups. The reasons are deeply rooted in traditional cultural values that drive them to serve their country. These include a proud warrior tradition, best exemplified by the following qualities said to be inherent to most, if not all, Native American societies: strength, honor, pride, devotion, and wisdom. These qualities closely correlate with military tradition.


As the first people to live on the land we all cherish, American Indians and Alaska Natives have profoundly shaped our country’s character and our cultural heritage. Today, American Indians and Alaskan Natives are leaders in every aspect of our society, from the boardroom to the battlefield, to the classroom.


The following are facts about National American Indian Heritage Month released by the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Executive Directorate of Research, Development, and Strategic


  • Sequoyah, a Cherokee who was born around 1776 in present-day Tennessee, was a silversmith who joined the U.S. military during the War of 1812. Observing how the White soldiers communicated via the written word, he invented a written alphabet for the Cherokee language, using 85 written symbols to represent syllables. He later became a statesman and diplomat for the Cherokee people.

  • Ohiyesa, also known as Dr. Charles Alexander Eastman, was born in 1858 on a Santee Sioux reservation in Minnesota. He graduated from Dartmouth College, and then from medical school. After graduating, he worked as a doctor for the Indian Health Service on the Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota, where he treated those injured in the U.S. Army attack on Lakota Chief Big Foot’s band at Wounded Knee. In 1910, he helped to establish the Boy Scouts of America.

  • In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, also known as the Snyder Act, giving American Indians the right to vote. After a survey in 1938 found that eight states still prohibited Indians from voting, several cases were brought to the Supreme Court. Utah, Minnesota, and Arizona were the last states to allow the vote, and it wasn’t until 1965 that all barriers to American Indians’ suffrage were eliminated in the United States.

  • Buffalo were a mainstay of culture as well as a primary means of survival for American Indians on the Great Plains. Buffalo hides were used to make clothing, tepees, furniture, moccasins, religious regalia, and drums. Hooves were used ceremonially to make implements, utensils, and glue. The bladder served as a storage pouch. Meat was used for food and in ceremonies. Fat and marrow produced food, paint, and cosmetics. Fur was used ceremonially and to make rope. Buffalo dung provided fuel.

  • Starting in World War I and again in World War II, the U.S. military employed a number of American Indian servicemen to use their tribal languages as a military code that could not be broken by the enemy. These “code talkers” came from many different tribes, including Chippewa, Choctaw, Creek, Crow, Comanche, Hopi, Navajo, Seminole, and Sioux. During World War II, the Navajos constituted the largest component within that elite group.

  • During World War I more than 8,000 American Indian soldiers, of whom 6,000 were volunteers, served. Their patriotism moved Congress to pass the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924. In World War II, 25,000 American Indian and Alaska Native men and women fought on all fronts in Europe and the South Pacific earning, collectively, two Congressional Medals of Honor, at least 71 Air Medals, 51 Silver Stars, 47 Bronze Stars, and 34 Distinguished Flying Crosses. Alaska Natives also served in the Alaska Territorial Guard.

  • At the 1964 Olympics, Sioux Indian 1 st LT Billy Mills set a world record and won the gold medal in the 10k race event. He remains the only American to win gold in the event. Following this accomplishment, Mills played a keystone role in the foundation of Running Strong for American Indian Youth – an organization dedicated to helping Native American youth lead healthy lifestyles and take pride in their heritage.

  • In 2002, astronaut and Chickasaw Indian John Bennett Herrington became the first enrolled member of a Native American tribe to orbit the Earth. He carried a ceramic Hopi pot emblazoned with three corn motifs into space, 250 miles above the surface of the planet. Herrington also carried a decorated eagle feather given to him by an Elder of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society, which was floated in the International Space Station airlock.

  • On November 20, 2013, American Indian code talkers from 566 tribes were honored with Congressional Silver Medals, and leaders from the tribes’ 33 nations received Congressional Gold Medals. These medals recognized the contributions of the code talkers during World War I and World War II, when they used their native languages to encode secret or sensitive information so that the enemy could not decipher radio transmissions.

  • Keith Harper, a member of the Cherokee Nation, became the first member of a federally recognized Indian tribe to serve at the U.S. Ambassador level when he was confirmed as United States Representative to the United Nations Human Rights Council in June 2014. In his career as an attorney, he has focused on issues involving injustice against Native peoples.