PAWs - Promoting Awareness and Wellness

Ashford University is proud to show you our PAWs. That is, our Promoting Awareness and Wellness initiative! Every month, we'll highlight different causes and opportunities that reflect the values of the University. You'll also learn ways that you can participate or be more involved.

November 2010

National Native American & Alaska Native Heritage Month
"Life is Sacred - Celebrate Healthy Native Communities."

The History of Native American Recognition
We celebrate Native American and Alaska Native History month every November in an effort to recognize the contributions made by the first Americans to the development of the United States. The story of how this month came to be designated as Native American and Alaska Native Heritage month began at the turn of the century.

Arthur Caswell Parker, a Seneca Indian, was the Director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, New York, and was one of the very first individuals to advocate for a day to honor the contributions of Native Americans. He worked with the Boy Scouts of America, and in 1912 persuaded them to designate a day to recognize the "First Americans." For three years, they adopted such a day. Parker's efforts with the Boy Scouts were influential to the September 1915 proclamation, issued by the Congress of the American Indian Association, that declared the second Saturday of every May as American Indian Day, and called upon the country to observe this day.

Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, was another instrumental figure in the early development of a day to recognize the contributions of Native Americans. He spent much of 1915 traveling from state to state and generating support for the approval of a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915, he visited the White House and presented endorsements from 24 state governments.

Of those states, New York was the first to formally recognize American Indian Day, declaring the second Saturday in May 1916 a day of observance. Today, several states recognize the fourth Friday in September, while others designate Columbus Day, as Native American Day. The observance has never been recognized as a national legal holiday.

However, in 1976, President Gerald R. Ford signed legislation that was proposed by Jerry Elliott High Eagle of the Cherokee/Osage tribe. The legislation declared the week of October 10-16, 1976 Native American Awareness Week. Nearly fifteen years later, President George H. W. Bush declared November 1990 National American Indian Heritage Month. Every year since 1994, a similar proclamation has been issued, which has led to our November 2010 celebration of National Native American and Alaska Native Heritage month. This year's theme is "Life is Sacred - Celebrate Healthy Native Communities."

Celebrating Contributions
Native Americans and Alaska Natives have contributed to American culture in countless ways. Below are just a few examples - follow the links to learn more!

Government. In Colonial times, the founding fathers were trying to identify a form of government that would allow the thirteen colonies to maintain their sovereignty, but would also provide adequate protection to ensure the colonies" freedom in the future. Many elements of the Federal system of government are modeled after the League of Native American Nations, which provided a unified voice for the representatives of smaller nations. To view a video that offers more information about the Native American influences on the current American government, please click here.

Skyscrapers. Many of the skyscrapers in New York City were only made possible through the Native American expertise in high-rise construction. Several generations of Mohawk Indians provided the labor force for construction projects beginning in the 1880s and continue to utilize their specialized skill set to this day. For more information, please click here and view "Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York," a virtual exhibit from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Art. Paint, clay, wood, stone, thread, reeds, and beads are examples of some of the media utilized by Native Americans to create objects with both practical functionality and aesthetic appeal. Native American craftsmen placed a personal stamp on each of their creations to indicate that their work was not just a repetition of tradition, but also an expression of both creativity and technical skill. For more information, please click here and view "First American Art," a virtual exhibit from the National Museum of the American Indian.

Learn More: Native American Artists

  • Poet, novelist, screenplay writer, film director, and stand-up comedian Sherman Alexie grew up on the Spokane Indian Reservation. Alexie has received numerous fellowships and awards for his diverse and distinguished work, including the 2010 PEN/Faulkner Award for Fiction. 
  • Daughter to a Native American mother and a German American father, poet and storyteller Louise Erdrich is a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. Winner of the National Book Critics Circle Award, Native American heritage and culture is a constant theme in her celebrated work. 
  • Poet and musician Joy Harjo, of the Mvskoke (Creek) Nation, has earned several awards for her work, including the Lifetime Achievement Award from the Native Writers Circle of the Americas. Her unique approach to art highlights the complexity of Native music and celebrates the fusion of oral and written poetry.
  • Pulitzer Prize winner N. Scott Momaday's father was Kiowa and his mother was part Cherokee; both parents taught school on Navajo, Apache, and Pueblo reservations. Momaday's varied experience with Native American culture makes his contributions to literature unique.


About Native American Heritage Month. (n.d.) Retrieved October 13, 2010 from The Library of Congress website,

Booming Out: Mohawk Ironworkers Build New York. (April 28-October 24, 2002). Retrieved October 14, 2010 from National Museum of the American Indian website,

First American Art: The Charles and Valerie Biker Collection of American Indian Art. (April 24, 2003-May 29, 2006). Retrieved October 14, 2010 from National Museum of the American Indian website,

Joy Harjo. (n.d.) Retrieved October 15, 2010 from the Joy Harjo website,

Louis Erdrich [1954-]. (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2010, from Modern American Poetry website,

Momaday, N. Scott (1934-). (n.d.). Retrieved October 15, 2010 from Oklahoma's Historical Society's Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History & Culture,

Native American Influence on the United States. (February 1, 2008). YouTube. Video retrieved October 14, 2010 from

Office of the Assistant Secretary - Indian Affairs Office of Public Affairs: National American Indian Heritage Month. (November 15, 2007). Retrieved October 14, 2010, from US Department of the Interior Indian Affairs website,

Sherman Alexie. (n.d.), Retrieved October 15, 2010 from Official Sherman Alexie website,

Additional Resources for Further Research:
Astronauts & Scientists: Jerry Elliott High Eagle. (2010). Retrieved October 13, 2010, from Challenger Center website,

Hertzberg, H. W. (February 1979). Nationality, anthropology, and pan-Indianism in the life of Arthur C. Parker (Seneca). Proceedings of the American Philosophical Society, 123(1). Available online at:

Hoxie, F. E. (Ed.) (1996). Encyclopedia of North American Indians. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company (Cengage).

Native American Authors. (2009). Retrieved October 14, 2010, from Internet Public Library website,

News From The Library of Congress. (May 11, 2005). Retrieved October 13, 2010, from Library of Congress website,

Porter, J. (1967). To be Indian: The life of Iroquis-Senece Arthur Casswell Parker. Norman, OK: University of Oklahoma Press.

November 2010