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National American Indian Heritage Month had its origins in 1986 when Congress passed Pub. L. No. 99-471 authorizing and requesting the President to proclaim the week of November 23-30, 1986, as “American Indian Week.” As directed by Congress, President Reagan issued Presidential Proclamation 5577 External in November 1986 proclaiming the first American Indian Week. Both the law and proclamation recognized American Indians as the first inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States as well as making mention of their contributions to American society:
Many of the foods we eat and the medicines and remedies we use were introduced by Indians and more than one highway follows an Indian trail. Indians make contributions in every area of endeavor and American life, and our literature and all our arts draw upon Indian themes and wisdom. Countless American Indians have served in our Armed Forces and have fought valiantly for our country.
In 1987, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 100-171, which again called upon the President to designate the week of November 22-28, 1987, as “American Indian Week." In 1988, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 100-450, which designated the week of September 23-30, 1988, as “National American Indian Heritage Week.” According to Pub. L. No. 100-450, this change from November to September was made because “the last week of September begins the harvest season in the United States.” Then, in 1989, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 101-188, which asked the President to proclaim the week of December 3-9, 1989, as “National American Indian Heritage Week.”
As requested by Congress, Presidents Reagan and George H.W. Bush External issued annual proclamations in 1987, 1988, and 1989, for “National American Indian Week,” honoring the achievements of the American Indians.
In 1990, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 101-343, which authorized and requested the President to issue a proclamation designating the month of November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Congress chose the month of November to recognize the American Indians, as this month concluded the traditional harvest season and was generally a time of thanksgiving and celebration for American Indians. President George W. Bush issued Presidential Proclamation 6230 External, which paid tribute to the rich history and culture of the American Indian tribes. In 1991, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 102-123, which authorized and requested that the President proclaim the months of November 1991 and 1992 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Subsequently, Congress passed Pub. L. No. 103-462, which authorized the President to proclaim November 1993 and 1994 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.”
Between 1995 and 2008, Presidents Clinton and George W. Bush issued annual proclamations designating November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Since 2009, Presidents Obama and Trump have issued proclamations designating November as National Native American Heritage Month. These proclamations celebrate the contributions of the American Indians and urge the people of the United States to learn more about the American Indian cultures.