Native American Day is celebrated on the fourth Friday of September every year. In 2023, that is September 22nd. Native American Day is 24 hours dedicated to honoring those who have identify as a Native American. Since 1998, Native American day has been celebrated across the country to bring awareness about the different types of tribes and cultures of Native Americans. It is also a time to remember the genocides of indigenous peoples and how they have persisted despite the adversities they have faced.
Native Americans, sometimes called First Americans or Indigenous Americans, are the indigenous people of the United States. When European colonizers began exploring the Americas in 1492, Native American population began to steeply decline due to the newly introduced diseases, wars, ethnic cleansing, and enslavement. Much of the growth of the United States coincides with the removal of Native American peoples from their ancestral lands. By recognizing that Native American’s haven’t always been treated as equals in this country, we can begin to learn from our differences and move forward in a more open and embracing way.
Today, the federal government recognizes 574 American Indian tribes and Alaska Native entities in the U.S. The tribe with the largest landmass is the Navajo Nation, which also has the largest tribal population. The Cherokee tribe has the largest native population in 22 states and is the second-largest tribe in America. Alaska is the US State that is home to the largest Native population.
Some of the most famous Native Americans throughout history include:
- Sacagawea – a Lemhi Shoshone woman who, as a teenager, joined the Lewis and Clark Expedition in exploring the Louisiana Territory. Sacagawea helped to establish cultural contacts with Native Americans from North Dakota to the Pacific Ocean, making exploration possible.
- Wilma Mankiller – a Cherokee Nation activist, social worker, community developer, and the first woman to be elected to serve as Principal Chief of the Cherokee Nation.
- Pocahontas – a Powhatan woman who has been the center of many stories over the year. While her story inspired a Disney film, the real-life Pocahontas was the daughter of a chief and became closely associated with the colonial settlement of Jamestown, Virginia.
- Jason Momoa – a famous actor with Native Hawaiian and Pawnee ancestry. Much of his work in Hollywood has centered around portraying Native Americans. Off screen, he is a strong advocate for his people.
- Squanto – a member of the Patuxet tribe, he served as a connection between the Native people in Southern New England and the Pilgrims who arrived on the Mayflower.
- Jimi Hendrix – with a grandmother who was part Cherokee, Hendrix identified as a Native American. As one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Jimi Hendrix is a member of the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame and was a proud advocate for people of color.
- Charles Curtis – an attorney from the Kaw Nation who served as the Vice President of the United States under Hebert Hoover. Curtis was the first Native American and first person with acknowledged non-European ancestry to reach one of the highest offices in the federal executive branch.
- Crazy Horse – a Lakota war leader of the Oglala band. He fought the US government as American settlers took territory from Native people and deprived them of their traditional way of life. He participated in many famous battles.
- Jim Thorpe – a member of the Sac and Fox Nation, Thorpe was an athlete and Olympic gold medalist. He went on to play in both the MLB and the NFL.
- Chief Seattle – a Suquamish and Duwamish chief who worked closely with white settlers to protect his people. The city of Seattle was named in his honor.