American Indian Heritage Day
Many Americans celebrate American Indian Heritage Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving. Similar to Native American cultural celebrations surrounding Columbus Day, this holiday is sometimes seen as an alternate celebration to Thanksgiving, which contains some unpleasant connotations for Native Americans, but some may observe both holidays. The day is reserved for celebration of American Indian heritage, culture, history, and the groups’ contributions to American society.
The day is commemorated with activities that celebrate American Indian heritage and teach about Native American history. This may include programs and ceremonies honoring Native American culture and prominent Native Americans. The rituals and languages of the culture are also celebrated—this may be through educational programs or exhibits of cultural traditions. Schools often include a lesson or program about Native American history and contributions.
Some groups of Native Americans may gather for powwows or other festivities where cultural dances, music, and meals are observed.
American Indians were the first native inhabitants of what is now North America. Before the arrival of European settlers, Native American tribes reigned over America’s land and separated into many different locations and governing bodies. Settlers infamously squatted and took this land from Native Americans largely by force. However, some lands were bought from the Indians, although these contracts often took advantage of the Native Americans and held misleading language. The violent conflicts between the Native Americans and the descendants of these settlers continued until most Indians were removed to reservations during the nineteenth century, the most common path of which was the Trail of Tears to reservations in Oklahoma.
American Indian Heritage Day is not a legal holiday within the United States, as legislation honors Native American Heritage Day in October. However, Maryland has established it as a public holiday, giving most students and employees a day off.