November is National Native American Heritage Month. This is a starting point resource for employers to actively support and celebrate National Native American Heritage Month in the workplace. Learn how your organization can recognize National Native American Heritage Month.
National Native American Heritage Month, also referred to as American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, is an opportunity to celebrate the storied history, rich culture, and long-standing traditions of the original settlers of our nation and their descendants. This month’s celebrations can’t be divorced from the malevolent transition of power from the Indigenous people to the colonists. Approximately 90% of the Native American population, which accounted for 56 million Indigenous people, was killed or died from foreign diseases such as smallpox, measles, and influenza between 1492 and 1600.
Today, there are more than 3.7 million people who identify at least partially as Native American, according to the 2020 Census, and 574 federally recognized Indian Nations across the United States. This month aims to cherish Native communities as the federal government works to atone for our nation’s history.
Use the quick navigation links below to jump ahead to a specific topic:
- The History of National Native American Heritage Month
- Why National Native American Heritage Month Is Important
- How National Native American Heritage Month Is Traditionally Celebrated
- Employee Considerations
- How to Recognize National Native American Heritage Month at Work
- TED Talks and Documentaries to Watch
- Books to Read
- Podcasts to Listen to
- Guest Speakers
- How Companies Are Celebrating
The History of National Native American Heritage Month
You may still be wondering: What is National Native American Heritage Month? Red Fox James of the Blackfeet Nation rode by horseback through dozens of states to secure a day that would honor his fellow Native Americans. His efforts were finally awarded in 1916 when the New York governor Charles Whitman declared the second Saturday in May American Indian Day. Other states soon followed suit.
Then, in 1988, Congress declared September 23-30 as National American Indian Heritage Week. Two years later, Congress passed a joint resolution declaring November as Native American Indian Heritage Month, and it was signed into law by then-President George H. W. Bush. It was meant to recognize Indigenous people’s contributions to harvesting potatoes and corn as well as their role in aiding early European settlers and the Founding Fathers of the U.S., which some criticized for its Euro-centric focus.
The National Native American Heritage Month as we know it today is still fairly new. President Biden’s administration proclaimed November as such in October 2021, and November 26 was declared Native American Heritage Day. President Biden wrote in his proclamation:
“Despite a painful history marked by unjust federal policies of assimilation and termination, American Indian and Alaska Native peoples have persevered. During National Native American Heritage Month, we celebrate the countless contributions of Native peoples past and present, honor the influence they have had on the advancement of our Nation, and recommit ourselves to upholding trust and treaty responsibilities, strengthening Tribal sovereignty, and advancing Tribal self-determination.”
Other dates of note:
- November 30 — Native Women’s Equal Pay Day
Why National Native American Heritage Month Is Important
Despite what Indian Nations experienced, they continue to persevere and preserve their heritage, culture, and traditions. National Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity for other U.S. citizens to join hands and honor the original inhabitants of the United States.
Cheryl Crazy Bull, president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund, says she joins colleagues and allies across the nation “with our belief that every day is Indigenous Peoples Day because Indigenous People are an integral and integrated part of this country, [and] we look at Native American Heritage Month (NAHM) as a time to deliberately focus on and create greater awareness of Native people’s contributions and knowledge.”
NAHM also provides opportunities for companies to celebrate, educate, and foster reciprocal partnerships. Crazy Bull adds that indigenous influencers can use their platforms to draw attention to the historical and contemporary experiences of Native people.
How National Native American Heritage Month Is Traditionally Celebrated
National Native American Heritage Month is an opportunity to learn more about Indigenous people. Each of the 574 federally recognized Indian tribes, not to mention the many that are still advocating for recognition, has their own identity and individual set of traditions. November is an opportunity to learn about and support Indigenous people by visiting reservations, reading about their history, and buying their artwork.
You and employees within your organization can also learn about the issues that plague the Indigenous population today. Per the FBI’s National Crime Information Center, 5,203 Indigenous girls and women went missing in 2021, meaning Indigenous women are disappearing at a rate equal to 2.5 times their share of the U.S. population. Murder is the third leading cause of death for Indigenous women. This has led to what is commonly referred to as the crisis of Missing and Murdered Indigenous Persons (MMIP).
Native American adults also experience higher rates of suicidal thoughts and suicide rates. Between 2018 and 2021, age-adjusted suicide rates were highest among Native Americans at a 26% increase compared to a 3.9% decline among the white population, according to the CDC. Additionally, substance abuse is also higher among Indigenous youths living on reservations.
Indigenous groups are also grappling with stereotyping and cultural disrespect, such as sports teams that mock the Native American heritage. Those without Native roots who buy or wear makeshift headdresses and war bonnets are considered highly offensive to many Indigenous people.
Understanding Native American’s history, values, traditions, and contemporary wins and losses can allow us all to be better allies and fellow Americans. This month is an opportunity for members of your organization to do so.
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National Native American Heritage Month Employee Considerations
November was chosen as the month to celebrate National Native American Heritage because it marks the end of the harvest season and is an opportunity for all to give thanks. Crazy Bull shares that many Indigenous people consider Thanksgiving as an opportunity to reflect on “the false narratives that often inform how people think about Native people’s experiences with colonization.”
“We recognize that there is a desire to view Indigenous people as having welcomed settlers, and while there are certainly times when relationships were productive and respectful, mostly relationships with settlers resulted in the decimation of Native populations, the loss of resources and land, and incredible damage to place-based Indigenous knowledge,” Crazy Bull says. “We also recognize that many Indigenous people view the time off associated with Thanksgiving as an opportunity for family and friends to gather and share meals, stories, and good times from their own cultural perspectives. We invite people to learn more about Indigenous people, our histories, and more.” She recommends visiting This is Indian Country to learn more.
While some Native Americans choose to recognize Thanksgiving, others may opt to recognize the National Day of Mourning, held on the fourth Thursday in November. On this day, non-Native Americans are invited to remember the events and bloodshed that led to the Thanksgiving holiday.
As a result, it’s important to be conscious of the nuances of the varied experiences of Indigenous people. Individuals may require extended leave throughout this month and the year to spend time with their families and tribes. Be accommodating and show your support for all Native American and Indigenous employees this month and beyond.
How to Recognize National Native American Heritage Month at Work
Invite guest speakers. Use a full-service speakers bureau, such as All American Speakers, the Indigenous Cultures Speakers Bureau, and the National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center, to book Native advocates and speakers dedicated to educating others about their stories and experiences as Indigenous people.
Host workshops. From beading to an instrument-making class, there are a number of workshops your team can host all month long. You can also hire a Native American educator to assist employees in workshops that build social and communication skills when interacting with and speaking about Indigenous people. This shows your commitment to understanding your Indigenous employees.
Partner with employee resource groups (ERGs). You can also collaborate with your Native American and Indigenous ERG to host workshops, educational sessions, and events. If you don’t have an ERG dedicated to Native American and Indigenous people, consider starting one this month. If an ERG isn’t feasible for your organization at this time, consider partnering with a local Native American nonprofit to host a company-wide event.
Choose a TED Talk or documentary to discuss. Recommend it at the start of the month and hold a panel discussion toward the end of the month.
Here are a few TED Talks to consider:
- Tara Houska, a tribal attorney and Couchiching First Nation citizen, explains how to protect Indigenous people who are preserving the earth in “The Standing Rock resistance and our fight for Indigenous rights” (2017)
- Rosalie Fish discusses her activism work in “Running for Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women” (2019)
- Jill Fish, assistant professor of psychology, shares her experience as a Tuscarora woman in “Honoring Indigenous Cultures and Histories” (2019)
- Photographer Aaron Huey on his five-year project photographing Indigenous people in “America’s native prisoners of war” (2010)
- Gregg Deal on making room for Native people in “Indigenous In Plain Sight” (2018)
Here are a few documentaries to consider:
- “Without a Whisper” (2020; available to buy)
- “Mankiller” (2017; available on Tubi, YouTube)
- “Words from a Bear” (2019; available on Amazon Prime)
- “Keep Talking” (2017; available on YouTube)
- “We Still Live Here” (2011; available on YouTube)
- “American Experience: We Shall Remain” (2009; available on PBS)
Organize an event. Ensure all employees can interact, share stories, and learn from one another in a safe space where everyone feels included. This could be a team or company-wide event. You can also consider hosting a potluck or supporting an Indigenous-owned restaurant that serves Native foods, such as wild rice, cornbread, hush puppy, fry bread, smoked salmon, and dry meats.
Attend a powwow. Powwows are social events in which Native American communities gather to connect and dance while celebrating their culture. As they’re open to the public, all are welcome to honor Indigenous people.
Consider adding a land acknowledgment to your company’s website. Weave Native American history into your company culture by including a land acknowledgment on your website. The Native Governance Center offers a thorough guide on how and why to do so. Take your dedication a step further by supporting the Indigenous communities near your organization.
Donate to a Native American nonprofit organization. Take this month to learn about and support Native American tribes and their people. A few organizations you should consider donating to include:
- Native American Rights Fund
- National Indigenous Women’s Resource Center
- National Indian Child Welfare Association
- American Indian College Fund
- This Is Indian Country
- Changing Woman Initiative
- Running Strong for American Indian Youth
Buy Indigenous peoples’ artwork. If you live or work near Native communities, seek out artists and buy their work. If not, there are also many who sell their work on Etsy, Alltribes, and Indian Pueblo Store, among other websites.
Visit a Native American museum. There are more than 200 tribal museums that you and your employees can seek out to achieve a deeper understanding of Indigenous history, including the National Museum of the American Indian in Washington, D.C., and the First Americans Museum in Oklahoma City. You can also visit Native American heritage sites such as the Aztec Ruins National Monument in New Mexico. If there’s one near you, consider compensating employees for two free tickets to visit a museum or Native American heritage site this month.
Start a book club. There is a vast selection of books that recognize Native American heritage. Choose a book at the start of the month so your team has time to finish it before a month-end discussion. We’ve mined the list of resources below from leading experts in Native American culture.
Books to Read for National Native American Heritage Month
- “Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto,” by Vine Deloria Jr. (1988)
- “Holding Our World Together,” by Brenda J. Child (2013)
- “As We Have Always Done: Indigenous Freedom through Radical Resistance,” by Leanne Betasamosake Simpson (2017)
- “Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee: An Indian History of the American West,” by Dee Brown (1970)
- “Lakota Woman,” by Mary Crow Dog (1990)
- “Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI,” by David Grann (2017)
- “The Inconvenient Indian: A Curious Account of Native People in North America,” by Thomas King (2018)
- “Braiding Sweetgrass: Indigenous Wisdom, Scientific Knowledge, and the Teachings of Plants,” by Robin Wall Kimmerer (2013)
- “One Vast Winter Count: The Native American West before Lewis and Clark,” by Colin G. Calloway (2003)
- “1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus,” by Charles C. Mann (2005)
Podcasts for National Native American Heritage Month
- This Land is an award-winning podcast hosted by Cherokee journalist Rebecca Nagle. In the documentary podcast’s first season, Nagle explores a murder at the Muscogee Creek Nation, which finds its way to the Supreme Court.
- All My Relations is hosted by Matika Wilbur, a visual storyteller from the Swinomish and Tulalip tribes, and Adrienne Keene, a queer author from the Cherokee Nation. Through their podcast, Wilbur and Keene provide a safe space in which they invite other Native Americans to share their stories and explore their relationships.
- The Red Nation is an exploration of the history, politics, and culture of Indigenous people. It’s hosted by journalist and historian Nick Estes, who is a member of the Lower Brule Sioux Tribe.
- Native America Calling is a daily podcast produced by the Koahnic Broadcast Corporation, a Native-run non-profit based in Anchorage, Alaska. Each episode recounts leaders’ experiences working to improve the lives of Native, Indigenous, and First Peoples around the world.
Guest Speakers for National Native American Heritage Month
- Cheryl Crazy Bull (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Sicangu Lakota nation. Since 2012, she has served as the president and CEO of the American Indian College Fund. Crazy Bull has received several awards and recognitions. She was named one of the 50 most influential people in Indian Country by Indian Country Today in 2015 and received a Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native American Finance Officers Association in 2019.
- Sarah EchoHawk (email: email@example.com), a citizen of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma, has been advocating for Indigenous people for more than 20 years. She also serves as the CEO of the American Indian Science and Engineering Society.
- Melvin Monette-Barajas (email: Melvin.Monette@cobellscholar.org) is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians who has advised American Indian and LGBTQ+ student groups throughout his career. He is now the president and CEO of the Cobell Scholarship Program at Indigenous Education, Inc.
- Angelique Albert (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Confederated Salish and Kootenai tribes. Since 2017, she has led as the CEO of the Native Forward Scholars Fund, the nation’s largest scholarship provider for Native students. She also serves as a member of the Obama Foundation’s My Brother’s Keeper Alliance Advisory Council.
- Michael E. Roberts (email: email@example.com), a member of the Tlingit Nation, was appointed the president and CEO of the First Nations Development Institute in 2005. Before then, he worked in private equity and taught business courses at the University of Missouri Kansas City and Haskell Indian Nations University.
- Carly Bad Heart Bull (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is a citizen of the Flandreau Santee Sioux Tribe in South Dakota. Before joining the Native Ways Federation as its executive director, she served as the Native nations activities manager at the Bush Foundation.
- Erik Stegman (email: email@example.com), of the Carry the Kettle First Nation, is the CEO of the Native Americans in Philanthropy organization, which advocates for stronger investments in Indigenous communities. He started his career at the National Congress of American Indians Policy Research Center in Washington, D.C., and later served in the Obama administration as a policy advisor at the U.S. Department of Education.
- Shannon O’Loughlin (email: firstname.lastname@example.org) is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. She is currently a lecturer at Johns Hopkins and the chief executive and attorney at the Association on American Indian Affairs, which is the oldest nonprofit dedicated to protecting the rights of Indigenous people and communities.
- Valerie Red-Horse, who is of the Cherokee Nation, was the first Native American to establish an investment bank on Wall Street more than 20 years ago. Red-Horse also founded Red-Horse Native Productions, Inc. for which she wrote, directed, and produced documentaries. In 2022, she was also appointed to the U.S. Treasury Advisory Committee on Racial Equity.
- Sydney Freeland was raised by her Navajo father and Scottish mother on a reservation in New Mexico. She was a 2004 Fulbright scholar and went on to write, direct, and release her first film, “Drunktown’s Finest,” which gained critical acclaim in 2014. Freeland received an Emmy nomination in 2016 for her digital series, “Her Story.”
How Companies Are Celebrating National Native American Heritage Month
Upcoming events for National Native American Heritage Month:
- November 4 — The National Museum of the American Indian presents Artist Raven Chacon in Concert and Conversation
In prior years:
- Apple Podcasts invited Indigenous creators to pitch shows and episodes to be featured on its platform through National Native American Heritage Month in 2022.
- The Oklahoma City Thunder basketball organization held several events to celebrate National Native American Heritage Month in 2022, including an all-Native basketball clinic for children and free basketball game tickets for all First Americans Museum attendees.
- In 2020, Microsoft launched its ninth employee resource group, Indigenous at Microsoft, which partners with Native organizations across the nation.
- The U.S. government’s National Native American Heritage Month event page
- Native American Rights Fund resources page
- Native Wellness Institute nonprofit organization
Visit our DEI calendar for a complete list of holidays, events, and commemorations for DEI leaders to recognize throughout the year.