As early as 1916, when New York became the first state to declare an “American Indian Day,” efforts have been underway to acknowledge the many contributions and achievements of Native American Indians. In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial commemoration, S.J. Res. 209 authorized President Gerald Ford to proclaim October 10-16, 1976, as “Native American Awareness Week.” In 1986 Congress passed S.J. Res. 390, requesting that the president designate November 23-30, 1986, as “American Indian Week.” Congress continued this practice in subsequent years, declaring one week during the autumn months as “National American Indian Heritage Week.”
In 1990 Congress passed and President George H. W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution designating the month of November as the first National American Indian Heritage Month (also known as National American Indian Month). “American Indians were the original inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States of America,” noted H.J. Res. 577. “Native American Indians have made an essential and unique contribution to our Nation” and "to the world." Introduced by Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye and congressional delegate Eni Faloemavaega of American Samoa, the joint resolution stated that “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon Federal, State, and local governments, interested groups and organizations, and the people of the United States to observe the month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” In 2008 the commemorative language was amended to also include the contributions of Alaskan Natives. Every year, by statute and/or presidential proclamation, the month of November is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month.