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Native American Indian Heritage Observance


November is American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month.

This month celebrates the cultures, histories and traditions of the indigenous people of the United States. This year's theme is 'Guiding our destiny with heritage and traditions.'

Recognized annually, Native American Heritage month first began with the establishment of American Indian day by the governor of New York in May of 1916. Several additional states enacted celebrations during the fourth Friday in September, but the celebration did not gain official national recognition until President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as 'National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage' month have been issued each year since 1994.

Today, more than 12,000 sailors and 1,500 civilians of Native American and Alaska Native heritage serve in the Navy. Our population is composed of nearly 5.2 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 1.7 percent of the nation's population.

Despite the fact that American Indians did not become citizens until 1924, their legacy of military service dates back to the American Revolutinary War when George Washington began enlisting them for his fledgling army, navy and marines.

Since then, they have contributed their fighting spirit and warrior ethos to help U.S. military forces defend America's national interests. Both past and present, these members have made remarkable contributions to our Navy's legacy.

Admiral Joseph James Clark, the first Native American graduate of the Naval Academy and a veteran of both world wars, served at sea on several cruisers and destroyers before designating as a naval aviator in 1925. Additionally, in the twentieth century, three sailors of American Indian heritage received the medal of honor, the United States highest military honor, including boatswain's mate first class James E. Wiliams.

Wiliams, a cherokee from South Carolina and one of the Navy's most highly decorated veterans, was awarded the medal of honor for actions while serving as boat captain and patrol's officer aboard a river patrol boat during the Vietnam war.

In 2004, the United States Navy honored him by naming one of the guided missile destroyers after him, USS James E. Williams (DDG 95). Native American sailors began serving on continental and state vessels durig the War of Independence and have continued their proud service during every armed conflict since then, contributing to the lasting traditions and heritage of both the nation and the Navy.

Commands are strongly encouraged to support American Indian and Alaska Natives Heritage month by increasing their knowlege of the American Indian and Alaska Native Cultures and contributions through programs, exhibits, publications, and participation in military and community events.

(Released by Vice Admiral W. F. Moran)


Related Links:

Naval History and Heritage Command - American Indians and Alaska Natives in Naval History

Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute - Native American Observance Presentation

Library of Congress National Commemorations


(Last Updated: 11/14/13)

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