Presidential Proclamation

Let me start by quoting the 2013, U.S. Presidential Proclamation regarding National Native American Heritage Month. This message provides a great starting point for the remainder of the article:

“As we observe this month, we must not ignore the painful history Native Americans have endured -- a history of violence, marginalization, broken promises, and upended justice. There was a time when native languages and religions were banned as part of a forced assimilation policy that attacked the political, social, and cultural identities of Native Americans in the United States. Through generations of struggle, American Indians and Alaska Natives held fast to their traditions, and eventually the United States Government repudiated its destructive policies and began to turn the page on a troubled past.”[1]

Native American DancerCredit: Pixabay

Contribution to the Principle of the U.S. Constitution

Lest it be forgotten, Native Americans, also referred to as American Indians, were contributors to the United States Constitution. The setters’ and colonialists’ who first experienced an organized league of Native Americans would have met the Iroquois League of Tribes (also referred to as the Iroquois Confederacy).

Iroquois and the U.S. Constitution

Most historians recognize the influence of the Iroquois Confederacy principles of a united collective of tribes and of its inherent democratic practices learned by John Hancock, Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson prior to the writing of the constitution. Furthermore, in 1776, the Continental Congress received a visit by Iroquois chiefs who spoke on the ideas of a united people, one people of one nation with common interests in reference to the new Americans and the Native Americans.[2]

Iroquois - Words of the World


The Iroquois leader, Deganawidah established the Iroquois Confederacy or Iroquois League (both are accepted names) on the principles of a shared code of values and desire to live in mutual harmony. Since Native Americans did not use the Gregorian calendar before the arrival of the Europeans, a date for the establishment of the Iroquois League cannot be definitively stated beyond sometime between 1350 and 1600 C.E. Even the origins of the commonly recognized name –Iroquois is unclear.

The generally accepted belief is that the word Iroquois is a French creation adapted creation based on a French misunderstanding of words used by this collective group of native people. As is often the case of European incursion in new territories their names for people and things eventually permeate and take root in even native societies; thus, the native people who called themselves Haudenosaunee (pronounced "hoo-dee-noh-SHAW-nee) became known by everyone as the Iroquois.

Two Civilized Nations

There were two groups of “civilized” Native Americans: the Iroquois League in the north-east and the Cherokee Nation in the south-east; both were collectives of multiple tribes or communities. The first tribes that joined to form the Iroquois Confederacy (initially there were five tribes - Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca; the “Five Civilized Tribes” often called the Cherokee Nation consisted of Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek and Seminole. The historical records support the direct influence the Iroquois had on the founding fathers, while the tribes of the south-east did their best to accept and assimilate European technology and ideas while maintaining their own identity and land. Unfortunately for the Five Civilized Tribes (Cherokee Nation), the European settlers and the future United States government had other ideas (see Trail of Tears). 

Devastating Effect

The establishment of the colonies, however, had a devastating effect on the peace, health, livelihood, customs, and very existence of the Native People. While native people were providing settlers furs and materials, lessons on crop cultivation, hunting wild life in the new world, as well as native customs and art, settlers to the new world were sharing their diseases such as smallpox, measles, influenza, lung infections, and the common cold with the Native Americans.

European efforts to spread out and claim land as personal property added to the disruption of the native people. False promises of support and security for each tribe who fights for the winning side as promoted by the French, British, Dutch, Spanish settlers, traders, military and politicians eventually broke the peace that existed between many native communities. 

The early days of the American Revolution to establish a United States, became the early days of destruction of United Tribes. The individual tribes making up the Iroquois, a league of tribes that influenced the principles of a new nation, were faced with having to choose sides during the American Revolutionary War. Each side, British and Colonialist, made promises of safety, security and liberty for the individual tribes that would fight with them against all others.

Eventually, pressure and promises turned a major faction of the Mohawk to side with the British and the Oneida to side with the colonists. After the war, colonists retaliated against American Indians that supported the British by raiding and destroying Iroquois villages, homes, crops, and forcing the original people off the land pushing them farther west and north on the continent. However, it was not just British supporters that were forced away; any “Indian” was fair-game if a colonist wanted the land occupied by the Native People. All any colonist had to do was to make the claim that “those Indians” were British sympathizers and the justification for forced removal by violence was accepted by the other new Americans.

It was not until about 1799 and into the 19th century, that a new religious movement focusing on common beliefs across many Native American cultures, provided the motivation needed to revitalize many old traditions and solidify the desire to maintain a “Native American,” “Original People” a tribal relationship as they transition to different lands and forced reservation life.

St. Peters Mission, 1887Credit: Porter, Francis Xavier and Scott, Kristi D.

Above: Mission Schools like St. Peter's founded in 1871 by Jesuits priests belonging to the Society of Jesus, were used to house and "educate" Native American children. The basic mission was to assimilate children into "white" society by teaching them to reject native customs and beliefs while converting them to Christianity.   

Forced Assimilation

Since the birth of the United States, under the auspices of a government or a government official, the U.S. had routinely tried to relocate, assimilate or disband native tribes. During the 19th and early 20th centuries the U.S. Government, and especially many Christian groups and leaders, believed that it was their job to convert or wash away the Native American culture; not to kill off all Indians, just to wash the red out and paint the Native People white.

During the 1800’s, Native American children were routinely taken away from their parents and placed in special schools and orphanages run by Christian churches or groups with the goal of “preaching and teaching” their "Indian-ness" out of them. The children’s names were usually changed to a white or Christian name to help separate the children from their Indian identity.

Fitting In

During the 19th and early 20th century, adult Native Americans that wanted to “fit in” to society and hopefully flourish also found it necessary to take on new names that would make them seems less “Indian.”  It was not until the Indian Citizenship Act of 1924, also known as The Snyder Act; the “Original People” were finally recognized as U.S. citizens.

By the late 20th century being an American Indian or of Native American heritage not only became socially acceptable, it has become desirable. It has become a common practice for many Americans and Canadians searching their genealogical roots to seek-out some bit of proof that they have a blood-line connection to the Original People. Native American’s no longer hid who they are – now all Native People, the Original Americans, stand proudly.

Native Arts and Culture

Contributions to the Arts

R. Carlos Nakai, Native American Flutist

Contributions to the Arts

AstronautCredit: Pixabay, 2014

Contributions to Science

  • Nuclear physicist Fred Begay (Navajo/Ute) (1932-2013), aka Fred Young or Clever Fox, served in the U.S. Army during the Korean War. After the war Begay attended college and eventually earned a PhD in physics in 1971. Dr. Begay worked on alternative solutions for energy sources.
  • Wilfred F. Denetclaw Jr., (Navajo) (1959- ), received his Doctorate in Zoology at University of California - Berkeley. His specialty is studying diseases that have no cure. 
  • Frank C. Dukepoo (1944-2000) was a geneticist who spent a significant amount of his time working towards improving Native American education.
  • John Bennett Herrington (Choctaw, 1958 - ) is the first registered Native American to fly in space in 2002. Herrington retired from the U.S. Navy.
  • William R. Pogue (Choctaw ancestry, unregistered) was a crewman aboard Skylab 4 in 1973–74.

Warrior Society

Navajo code talkers in 2013Credit: U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Grace LeeContributions to the U.S. Military

The Navajo Code Talkers are infamous. Anyone who has attended any history class that included the topic of World War II is likely to have had an exposure to the story of the Navajo code talkers. Navajo soldiers would code information in their native language and transmit those secrets over the radio to a fellow Navajo solder who would in turn decipher the message without the enemy having a clue to its content. The Navajo code was never broken by the enemy.

Famous Native Americans in the Military

  • Ely Samuel Parker was promoted to Brigadier General in the US Army on March 2, 1876. He began his career in the militia prior to the American Civil War. During the Civil War he served as a Captain and appointed assistant adjunct-general. In 1866 he was in the U.S. Cavalry. In 1868, Parker became the Commissioner, making him the first Native American to hold a federal office. He died of illness in 1895.
  • General Stand Watie planned the successful raid into northern Indian Territory. Waite commanded an 800 man Cavalry of Cherokee, Creek and Seminole Indians.
  • Clarence L. Tinker was the first American Indian in the U.S. Army history to attain the rank of Major General. MG Tinker began his Army career as an infantry officer assigned to the Twenty-Fifth Infantry Division. In 1919, after World War I, Tinker began flight training and was later transferred to the Army Air Corps. In 1922, he was assigned to flight duty. MG Tinker was the first American General lost in World War II. His remains were never found. In 1931, Tinker was posthumously awarded the Soldier's Medal and the Distinguished Service Medal. Tinker Air Force Base in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma is named in his honor.

Native American Medal of Honor Recipients

Indian Wars

  • Sergeant Alchesay, Indian Scout; Winter of 1872-73; Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Indian Scout Blanquet; Winter of 1872-73; Campaigns and engagements with Apaches.
  • Indian Scout Chiquito; Winter of 1871-73; Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Sergeant Co-Rux-Te-Chod-Ish (Mad Bear), Pawnee Scout, U.S. Army.
  • Corporal Elsatoosu, Indian Scouts; Winter of 1872-73; Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Private Pompey Factor, Indian Scout; Pecos River, Tex., 25 April 1875.
  • Sergeant Jim, Indian Scout; Winter of 1871-73; Arizona Territory, Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Indian Scout Kelsay; Winter of 1872-73; Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Indian Scout Kosoha; Winter of 1872-73. Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Private Machol, Indian Scouts; Arizona, 1872-73; Campaign and engagements against Apaches.
  • Indian Scout Nannasaddie: 1872-73; Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Indian Scouts Nantaje (Nantahe); 1872-73; Campaigns and engagements against Apaches.
  • Private Adam Paine, Indian Scouts; 4th U.S. Cavalry; Canyon Blanco tributary of the Red River, Tex., 26-27 September 1874.
  • Trumpeter, Isaac Payne, Indian Scouts; Pecos River, Tex., 25 April 1875.
  • Sergeant Rowdy, Company A, Indian Scouts; Arizona, 7 March 1890.
  • Sergeant John Ward, 24th U.S. Infantry Indian Scouts; At Pecos River, Tex., 25 April 1875.

World War II

2LT Van Thurman Barfoot

  • Second Lieutenant Van T. Barfoot, U.S. Army, 157th Infantry, 45th Infantry Division; Near Carano, Italy, 23 May 1944. [image on the right]
  • Second Lieutenant Ernest Childres, U.S. Army, 45th Infantry Division; Oliveto, Italy, 22 September 1943.
  • Commander Ernest Edwin Evans, U.S. Navy; U.S.S. Johnston; Near Samar on 25 October 1944.
  • First Lieutenant Jack C. Montgomery, U.S. Army, 45th Infantry Division. Near, Padiglione, Italy, 22 February 1944.
  • Private First Class John N Reese, Jr., U.S. Army, Company B, 148th Infantry, 37th Infantry Division. Paco Railroad Station, Manila, Philippine Islands; 9 February 1945.

Korean War

  • Private First Class Charles George, U.S. Army, Company C, 179th Infantry Regiment, 45th Infantry Division; Near Songnae-dong, Korea, 30 November 1952.
  • Captain, Raymond Harvey, U.S. Army, Company C, 17th Infantry Regiment; Vicinity of Taemi-Dong, Korea, 9 March 1951.
  • Corporal Mitchell Red Cloud Jr., U S. Army, Company E, 19th Infantry Regiment, 24th Infantry Division; Near Chonghyon, Korea on 5 November 1950.
  • Master Sergeant Woodrow W. Keeble, U.S. Army; Sangsan-ni, Korea, October 20, 1951. While serving in the 19th Infantry as Acting Platoon Leader for Company G, Support Platoon.  [image below]
MSgt Woodrow Wilson KeebleCredit: – Images

Final Word

Native American ScoutCredit: John Stanley

Native American History Month is a time for all Native People, the Original Americans, to explore their heritage, their history, the heartaches and successes, as well as the major contributions of individual people.  It is a time for all Americans and Canadians to take a few moments and do a little reading and reflecting on the adverse effect of the European push into and westward across North America. It is also a time to discover the contributions that Native Americans have made in the arts, sciences, the military and politics.   

Native Peoples
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