American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month observance begins Nov. 1
WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy joins the nation in celebrating American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, which will be observed Nov. 1 through Nov. 30.
The 2013 national theme, Guiding Our Destiny with Heritage and Traditions, encourages the nation to reflect and celebrate the cultures, histories and traditions of the indigenous peoples of North America, including parts of Alaska and the island state of Hawaii.
Today more than 12,000 Sailors and 1,500 civilians of Native American and Alaska Native heritage serve in the Navy. According to the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs, 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives reside in the United States, composed of nearly 4.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 1.5 percent of the nation's population.
Despite the fact that American Indians did not become citizens until 1924, their legacy of military service dates back to the American Revolutionary War when George Washington began enlisting them for the Army, Navy and Marines. They have contributed their fighting spirit and warrior ethos to help U.S. military forces defend America's national interests. Both past and present, these members have made remarkable contributions to our Navy's legacy. In the twentieth century, three Sailors of American Indian heritage received the Medal of Honor, the United States' highest military honor, including Boatswain's Mate First Class James E. Williams. Williams, a Cherokee from South Carolina and one of the Navy's most highly decorated veterans, was awarded the Medal of Honor for actions while serving as Boat Captain and Patrols Officer aboard a River Patrol Boat during the Vietnam War. In 2004, the United States Navy honored him by naming one of the guided missile destroyers after him, USS James E. Williams (DDG 95). Native American Sailors served on Continental and state vessels during the War of Independence and have continued their proud service during every armed conflict since then, contributing to the lasting traditions and heritage of both the nation and the Navy.
Recognized annually, Native American Heritage Month first began with the establishment of American Indian Day by the governor of New York in May 1916. Several additional states enacted celebrations during the fourth Friday in September, but the celebration did not gain official national recognition until President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations under different names, including "Native American Heritage Month" and "National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month," have been issued each year since 1994.
For more information about American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Navy from the Naval History and Heritage Command, visit http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20highlights/NativeAmerican/NativeAmerican-index.htm.
A presentation on the contributions of American Indians to our military, as well as a Special Observance toolkit, is available online from the Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute at http://www.deomi.org/SpecialObservance/.
For more information on national commemorations from the Library of Congress, visit http://nativeamericanheritagemonth.gov/.
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp/.