At this time of year, many will be celebrating Native American Day in various states across the country. Despite what’s been taught in history books for many years, the natives were the first inhabitants of this land. Natives, meaning “first people”, were here before the European explorers came across the ocean. They were even here before Columbus or before the United States technically became a country.
When and What is Native American Day?
Native American Day is a holiday celebrated in several states that honor the Native American culture and contributions to the United States. This year, in California and Nevada, it’s observed on Friday, September 24th. In South Dakota and Wisconsin, it’s observed Monday, October 10th. In Washington, it falls on November 28th. And, Tennessee celebrates American Indian Day on Monday, September 26th.
This holiday celebrates the many cultural contributions that the Indigenous people made to individual states, as well as the whole country. It also commemorates the very real challenges and triumphs of the Indigenous People.
History of Native American Day
In 1914, a Blackfoot Indian, Red Fox James, rode his horse across the states in an attempt to get them to honor Indians. He managed to get 24 states to endorse this holiday and even went to the White House to present. However, it seems as if nothing came of the matter, as there is no record of it.
The following year, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian in Rochester, NY, proposed the idea of celebrating Native American culture to the Boy Scouts of America around 1912. They obliged, calling it a day to honor “First Americans”. Three years later, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association proposed that the whole country honor national American Indian Day.
President of the association, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, who was Arapahoe, asked the country to officially observe this holiday. On September 28, 1915, they declared that the second Saturday in May would be “American Indian Day”.
In fact, the governor of New York made it official in May 1916, by proclaiming that American Indian Day would be celebrated on the fourth Friday in September.
Furthermore, President George Bush designated a whole month to honor Native Americans in 1990, calling it “National American Indian Heritage Month”. States have been honoring them yearly since then.
Native American Women Are Reclaiming Their Language
To honor Native America Day this year, we’re honoring all those who have made an impact in some form to our beautiful country. In addition, we’re also honoring the native women who are dedicated to reclaiming their native languages.
Native American Language
Despite some states honoring Native American culture, generations of men, women, and children have gone through many challenges trying to preserve their heritage. In fact, colonists banned many of their native practices and demanded native children to leave their families to attend boarding schools where they were not allowed to speak their native language.
As a result, many people have forgotten their mother tongue and native languages are not being passed down to many children these days. This is why some Native American women are making it their mission to reclaim their cultural identity by relearning and teaching their native languages.
Take Quirina Geary, for example. She’s a part of the Mutsun tribe and grew up not knowing her native tongue. When she was in the fourth grade, she was asked to speak her native language at school and was embarrassed because she didn’t know it. This lit a fire in her to find her Mutsun elders and learn her native language from them.
Her task was tougher than she imagined. She couldn’t find anyone that spoke Mutsun. But this didn’t stop her quest. She ended up meeting a linguistics graduate student who was willing to work with her to revive the Mutsun language.
Quirina says, “Reviving a language with no native speakers is incredibly hard…but this is the most rewarding work that I do. Actually helping people in their daily lives to find a greater sense of identity is quite meaningful.”
Now, there are more Indigenous women who are working hard at preserving their native language and passing it down to younger generations. Women have long been known as the “keepers of cultural knowledge”, instilling cultural traditions and language to the youngsters.
Some may wonder why these women have taken on such a project. They’ll tell you that some of the benefits of knowing your cultural background, including the language, helps give people a better sense of personal identity, and helps them feel mentally, emotionally, and physically better.
Other examples of women actively working on preserving native languages are Sydney Malidi Roberts, who studies at the University of British Columbia. She aims to become a Kwak’wala teacher and is passionate about linguistic data preservation. She states, “I’m an instrument for my ancestors. Every day I work through my ancestors and especially with our language, it’s an everyday effort to save our language.”
Belinda Daniels is a teacher from Sturgeon Lake First Nation. She runs the Nehiyawak Language Experience that hosts summer camps and monthly Cree language workshops. She says, “I really believe that the spirit of the Cree language chose me to do this work, and I do this work to create awareness that there are Indigenous Peoples living here still speaking their language,” said Daniels.
Celebrate And Honor Native American Day
We honor Native American Day and all Indigenous People who have been or are part of the beautiful population. We also honor and celebrate all the women who are actively reclaiming their native languages. What a wonderful way to preserve such an important part of our culture, reinforcing and reinstating that we are all wonderfully unique, and we all belong here.