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The fight to establish, honor and celebrate Indian Day

The fourth Friday in September, what has become known as Indian Day, has been set aside by the Seminole Tribe of Florida – along with many other tribes across the country – to honor and celebrate Native Americans as the first occupants of this great nation.

On Indian Day, it doesn’t matter what clan Tribal members may belong to or what reservation they may reside on; it is a day to come together as one big Seminole family to partake in activities reminiscent of their ancestors, who fought so hard to remain unconquered.

Even though Indian Day is not a nationally recognized holiday, it is a concept that many individuals have worked hard for over the past century.

One of the very first advocates for an American Indian Day was a member of the Seneca Indian Tribe, Dr. Arthur C. Parker. Parker was the director of the Museum of Arts and Sciences in Rochester, N.Y. and also the founder of numerous American Indian rights organizations, including the Society of American Indians in 1911 and the National Congress of American Indians in 1944.

Parker persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day to honor the first Americans. A day was adopted for three years, from 1912 to 1915.

On Sept. 18, 1915, the Congress of the American Indian Association held a meeting in Lawrence, Kan. where the Rev. Sherman Coolidge, also a founder of the Society of American Indians, issued a proclamation declaring the second Saturday of May as American Indian Day.

A year prior to the proclamation, another strong-willed Indian rights advocate, Red Fox James, whose tribal identity is said to be undetermined but is occasionally referenced as a Blackfoot Indian, traveled more than 4,000 miles on horseback to Washington, D.C. to petition for an Indian Day.

Met with resistance, the next year he took to horseback again and went state to state seeking gubernatorial support. He petitioned once more in 1919 to designate the fourth Saturday of September as an Indian holiday.

The first American Indian Day was declared in 1916 when the governor of New York at the time Charles S. Whitman formally designated the second Saturday in May as the day of observance. Other states followed with their own Indian Days including Illinois and Massachusetts. Several states including South Dakota have designated Columbus Day as their Native American Day, making it a state-sanctioned holiday.

Even after so much effort, an actual Indian Day continues to be unrecognized as a national legal holiday.

Florida, along with California, continue to recognize the fourth Friday of September, the day Red Fox James fought so earnest for, as their Indian Day.

Each September the Seminole Tribe holds celebrations on all reservations, hosting an array of cultural events ranging from archery, pumpkin bread making contests, traditional clothing contests, stickball and the infamous skillet throw to remember their Native ancestors and other Native American tribes that helped make America what it is today.

The fight for Native American recognition continues with the current president and government. In 2009 Congress passed House Joint Resolution 40 designating the Friday immediately following Thanksgiving Day as Native American Heritage Day. President Barack Obama signed the legislation on June 26, 2009.

Then on Oct. 30, 2009, President Obama issued a proclamation designating November 2009 as National Native American Heritage Month and Nov. 27, 2009 as Native American Heritage Day.

In October 2010, President Obama issued yet another proclamation designating November 2010 as National Native American Heritage Month.

These proclamations all help solidify Native Americans’ rightful place in the nation’s history, and with continued perseverance, Indian Day may soon become a nationally recognized holiday.

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