The beginnings of Native American Heritage Month go back to 1915, when Red Fox James, a Native American of the Blackfoot Nation, rode a horse from state to state seeking approval from 24 state governments for a day to honor the American Indian. Although his efforts went to the White House, no official action was taken.
Click here for UMC resources for Native American Heritage Month.
Seventy-five years later, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, with various names, have been issued each year since 1994. Cultural sites, museums and native tribal councils have organized events showcasing their diverse culture and history so that they might continue to thrive.
Native Americans offer rich contributions to The United Methodist Church. “It is time for the church to look at the gifts and graces of Native Americans,” said Josephine Deere, a member of the Muskoke Nation . “We have a lot to offer.” Her remarks followed the “Act of Repentance toward Healing Relationships with Indigenous Peoples” service at the 2012 General Conference.
Blenda Smith, a white laywoman from the Upper New York Annual Conference, agreed.
“We need to focus on healing relationships,” she said. “And then we need to realize that the learning is just beginning.”
Native American Heritage Month gives United Methodists an opportunity to reach out to indigenous groups in the community and to learn about—and from—their Native American sisters and brothers.
The United States includes more than 573 federally recognized Indian nations, variously called tribes, nations, bands, pueblos, communities and native villages. The total American Indian/Alaska Native population is 2.9 million, less than 1 percent of the U.S. population. Of The United Methodist Church’s more than 32,000 U.S. congregations, 157 are predominantly Native American. Many are located in the Oklahoma Indian Missionary Conference, which the 1972 General Conference designated “with the same rights and powers as an annual conference.”
While the denomination observes Native American Ministries Sunday on the Third Sunday of Easter, United Methodists are also encouraged to celebrate Native American Heritage Month in November. It is an opportunity to learn about the rich diversities of the cultures that existed long before Christopher Columbus journeyed to “the new world.”