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Legacy HomepageNewsSpecial ReportsNational American Indian Heritage Month 2016 (Archive)
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National American Indian Heritage Month
November 2016

American Indian and Alaska Natives in the Military

1,275 Officers 0.6%

14,559 Enlisted 1.4%

Source: Defense Manpower Data Center


Soldiers Update: Spc. Lori Piestewa

The Story of Medal of Honor Recipient Master Sgt. Woodrow W. Keeble

Serving our Nation
Portrait of President Barack Obama

"This month, let us celebrate the traditions, languages, and stories of Native Americans and ensure their rich histories and contributions can thrive with each passing generation."

- President Barack Obama Proclamation

Facts of the Day

November 2016

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  • Nov. 1, 2016

    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, that mark the history of American Indians and Alaska Natives. The theme for 2016, "Serving Our Nations," was chosen by the Society of American Indian Government Employees.

  • Nov. 2, 2016

    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 566 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. Source

  • Nov. 3, 2016

    Sovereignty is the right of a nation or group of people to be self-governing, and it is the most fundamental concept that defines the relationship between the U.S. government and governments of American Indian tribes. American Indians and Alaska Natives are U.S. citizens and citizens of their tribes. They are subject to federal laws, but they are not always subject to state laws.

  • Nov. 4, 2016

    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.

  • Nov. 5, 2016

    In 1914, Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode on horseback from state to state, seeking support for a day to honor American Indians. A year later, James presented the endorsements of 24 state governments to the White House. There is no record of a national day being proclaimed, despite his efforts.

  • Nov. 6, 2016

    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.

  • Nov. 7, 2016

    Horses were native to North America, but had disappeared by about 8000 B.C. and were unknown to the Indians when the Spanish arrived. By 1700, horses were roaming wild in the Southwest, and they thrived on the grasslands of the plains. Indians quickly adopted the horse, which enabled them to hunt buffalo more efficiently.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 5
  • Nov. 8, 2016

    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, teepees, 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.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 8
  • Nov. 9, 2016

    In 1890, the Miniconjous of the Lakota Sioux at Pine Ridge, South Dakota -- led by Sitting Bull -- planned to perform a religious ritual called the Ghost Dance. Two federal agents went to arrest Sitting Bull at his home in North Dakota, where he was shot and killed during the argument that followed. The Miniconjou people fled south, where they were captured and surrounded by Army troops in Wounded Knee, South Dakota. In the confusion, a gun fired and the troops began to fire upon the unarmed Indians. It is believed that as many as 300 men, women and children were killed in the Wounded Knee Massacre.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 11
  • Nov. 10, 2016

    Around 1804, the Poncas began to practice the ceremony that led to the powwow. They called it the Hethuska. They passed it to the Kaw, who gave it to the Osage. Then the Omaha incorporated the ceremony, which was passed to the Lakota (Sioux) tribe. It became popular in the late 1890s. During this time, the Omaha, or "Grass" dance as it was then called, spread quickly. The Grass dancers danced for the purpose of dancing itself, not religious ceremony.

  • Nov. 11, 2016

    In 1898, the Curtis Act dissolved Indian Territory tribal governments by abolishing tribal courts and subjecting all persons in the territory to federal law. Under this act, towns could be surveyed and incorporated, residents were permitted to vote, and the establishment of public schools was sanctioned.

  • Nov. 12, 2016

    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.

  • Nov. 13, 2016

    On Nov. 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.

  • Nov. 14, 2016

    American Indians and Alaska Natives come from a multitude of different cultures with diverse languages, and for thousands of years used oral tradition to pass down familial and cultural information among generations of tribal members. As contact between Indians and non-Indians grew, so did the necessity of learning new languages. Even into the 20th century, many American Indians and Alaska Natives were bilingual or multilingual as a result of learning to speak their own language as well as English, French, Russian or Spanish, or even another tribal language.

  • Nov. 15, 2016

    Maria Tallchief, an Osage Indian, became a successful ballerina and in 1981 founded the Chicago City Ballet with her sister Marjorie. Tallchief is considered America's first major prima ballerina, and is the first Native American to hold the rank.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 30
  • Nov. 16, 2016

    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 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.

  • Nov. 17, 2016

    At the 1964 Olympics, Sioux Indian 1st LTt. Billy Mills, a Marine Corps reservist, 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.

  • Nov. 18, 2016

    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.

  • Nov. 19, 2016

    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.

  • Nov. 20, 2016

    In 1924, the passing of the Citizenship Act made all Indians citizens without impairing their status as tribal members. Nevertheless, few Indians were permitted to vote before the 1960s.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 23
  • Nov. 21, 2016

    The Bureau of Indian Affairs was established in 1824, and it is the oldest bureau of the U.S. Department of the Interior. It serves about 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives. The BIA is responsible for the administration and management of 55 million surface acres and 57 million acres of subsurface minerals estates held in trust by the United States for American Indians, Indian tribes and Alaska Natives.

  • Nov. 22, 2016

    More than half of the U.S. states trace their names to Indian origins: Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas, Connecticut, Idaho, Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Kentucky, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, Mississippi, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas, Utah, Wisconsin and Wyoming.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 6
  • Nov. 23, 2016

    Nancy Ward was the daughter of a Delaware man and a Cherokee woman. When her husband, a Cherokee warrior, was killed in a battle, she donned men's clothing and took over her husband's role in the fight. In recognition of her actions, she was given a position on the Council of Chiefs, making her possibly the first Cherokee woman to wield such power. She was awarded the title of "Beloved Woman," which gave her the responsibility of deciding the fates of prisoners, and she spent the remainder of her years working for Indian-White peace.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 30
  • Nov. 24, 2016

    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.

  • Nov. 25, 2016

    "Every year, our Nation pauses to reflect on the profound ways the First Americans have shaped our country's character and culture. The first stewards of our environment, early voices for the values that define our Nation, and models of government to our Founding Fathers—American Indians and Alaska Natives helped build the very fabric of America. Today, their spirit and many contributions continue to enrich our communities and strengthen our country." —President Barack Obama

  • Nov. 26, 2016

    As commissioner of Indian affairs under President Franklin D. Roosevelt, John Collier crusaded to prevent the absorption of the American Indian culture into mainstream American society, and questioned the wisdom of such decisions. During his time in office, Collier reformed Indian religious freedom, public relief and conservation programs, as well as protection and retention of tribal land.

  • Nov. 27, 2016

    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 U.S. 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.

  • Nov. 28, 2016

    Parkas, a perennial fashion staple, were first worn by Indians and originally taken up by whites as military garb. Ponchos—another common Indian clothing item—became popular during World War I as soldiers' rain gear. Indian moccasins have been adopted as house slippers, and people living in snowy climates rely on Indian-originated snowshoes.

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 29
  • Nov. 29, 2016

    Many aspects of American Indian and Alaska Native culture have remained a staple in modern-day American life. The hammock, common in many different Indian cultures, found its way onto Navy and merchant-marine ships as a space-saving bed. Nowadays, they can be found in our own backyards!

    The New York Public Library, American History Desk Reference, Page 29
  • Nov. 30, 2016

    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.



National American Indian Heritage Month Presentation

Download Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute Presentation