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Native American Day

Authored by Niamh Franklin
Published on 22nd September, 2023 2 min read

Native American Day

Today (22/09/23) is Native American Day. It is observed in California on the fourth Friday of September and on different dates in Nevada, South Dakota, Tennessee, and Washington. It commemorates and honours Native American communities and highlights the significance of their cultural practices. Importantly, Native American Day aims to dismantle stereotypes about Native Americans that remain prominent throughout American society. American popular culture often relies upon racist and stereotypical portrayals of Native Americans, particularly in movies and for mascots of sports teams. For example, the use of war bonnets when depicting Native Americans is historically inaccurate. In fact, this sacred headdress was only native to the Great Plains Indians and was worn only by the most important male chiefs and warriors. In order to combat such stereotypical representations, U.S. states that celebrate Native American Day tailor events according to the different practices of their native Indigenous communities. In California, for example, there are education initiatives designed to teach communities accurate representations of Native American culture. Student and teacher conferences form part of such education initiatives. These give people the chance to learn first-hand from Native American leaders about their experiences and culture. 

Whilst Native American Day is widely recognised as an important step forward in terms of correcting flawed and racist narratives about Native American people, it nevertheless remains controversial. This is because of the continued celebration of Columbus Day which takes place a few weeks later, on 9 October. Some Native Americans feel that the refusal to remove Columbus Day as a holiday undermines the celebration of Native American Day. Of course, Columbus remains a somewhat iconic figure in American culture — former President Ronald Reagan declared “that Columbus was the inventor of the American Dream” after signing the Columbus Day Proclamation. The continued commemoration of Columbus, despite the devastating consequences that his actions had for Native American people, is therefore problematic. “To dignify Columbus and his legacy with parades, holidays and other celebrations is intolerable to us”, The American Indian Movement (AIM) has declared: “As the original peoples of this land, we cannot, and will not, countenance social and political festivities that celebrate our genocide.” Whilst the continued celebration of Native American Day is a welcome trend, it is important to recognise that Native Americans still seek justice. Native American Day should not be regarded as a simple solution to the years of exploitation experienced by Native Americans. It should be viewed, rather, as part of ongoing efforts to achieve equality for the Indigenous people of America. 

Authored by Niamh Franklin

Niamh Franklin

Niamh Franklin is a History graduate from the University of Bristol.

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Notable Days


The British Online Archives Notable Days diary is a platform intended to mark key dates and events throughout the year. The posts draw attention to historical events and figures, as well as recurring cultural traditions and international awareness days, in both religious and secular contexts.

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