For centuries, education in the United States focused almost solely on the history of White male European explorers and settlers. Finally, in 1976 as part of the country’s bicentennial, President Gerald Ford declared February Black History Month—an event already recognized by numerous states by then.
In the following decades, months were designated to nationally observe the contributions and history of other groups long underrepresented in school curriculums such as women, Hispanics, Asian and Pacific Islanders, Arabs, Jews and LGBTQ people.
On August 3, 1990, President George H. W. Bush declared the month of November as National American Indian Heritage Month. Since then every President has issued a proclamation for the month of November as Native American Heritage Month.
Until President Donald Trump.
While Trump followed the tradition on the 31st of October to recognize Native American Heritage Month during November, he added a second national observation. The Trump administration decided the history of White European explorers and settlers required a month long observance titled National American History and Founders Month—a campaign begun by major GOP and Trump donors Jack and Jennifer Burkhart London.
— Elena Haskins (@ElenaHaskins) November 5, 2019
— 🇺🇸 #Pr♡udAmeric☆n🇺🇸 #GodBlessOurMilitary🇺🇸 (@TweeTLeDaMe) November 5, 2019
It seems like every month is national american history and founders month. They’re on our currency, for gods sake
— Jenn TheChosenOne HereByOrders (@JezebelButler) November 5, 2019
Trump just trashed Native American Heritage Month and established this, seemingly based off a resolution that has been working its way through the Missouri Senate. This colonizing gesture is a significant sign of disrespect, and should be covered as such. https://t.co/ErZintScpp
— Jamil Smith (@JamilSmith) November 5, 2019
Largely in response to members of his base decrying the lack of a White history month, Trump also proclaimed November 2019 would include the new designation. The stated purpose is to celebrate the “first European founders and colonizers of America.”
The fact this group was largely responsible for the genocide of Native Americans was not lost on Native leaders, activists and scholars.
Did Trump intentionally pick #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth to center a Eurocentric narrative? Trump approved DAPL KXL pipelines thru treaty land days into office, cut Native programs, ran anti-Native ads & uses our genocide to rip on Warren.
Yah, he knew.https://t.co/1E0Mz5RLEy
— tara houska (@zhaabowekwe) November 5, 2019
Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nation Anishinaabe) told The Washington Post:
“By centering this founders’ narrative and calling it American history, it completely erases Native people. It’s an uncomfortable truth that the first people in this country were here before the founding of the [United States].”
Nor was the fact that while the new American History and Founders Month received prominent recognition on the official White House website, the Native American Heritage proclamation was initially not posted to the website until after public backlash. And the majority of that proclamation touts the accomplishments of the Trump administration, not Native Americans.
The only specific example of Native contribution to the USA mentioned in Trump’s 2019 proclamation is even devalued. The President states “American Indians and Alaska Natives have [volunteered for military service] at one of the highest rates of any ethnic group…”. But Indigenous peoples of the United States have joined the military at the highest rate of any ethnic group for decades, during wartime and peace.
This is not a statistic they share as just “one of” the unnamed others Trump alludes to.
— Vietnam Vet Memorial (@VVMF) November 1, 2019
Simon Moya-Smith (Oglala Lakota) told The Post:
“The [Founders] proclamation is a clear rejection of what Native American Heritage Month stands for: that we, as Indigenous people, survived these so-called Founding Fathers who weren’t founders at all. They were invaders. They massacred, they murdered, they demonized.”
“It subverts and insults the purpose of this month by saying, ‘We’re also going to celebrate the White people that hated the Indians.’ Even if he does make the [Native Heritage] proclamation, people can see that in and of itself is lip service.”
Let me clarify: Trump subverts and undermines the sole purpose of #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth by instead celebrating “The Founders” — white men who in the Declaration of Independence explicitly referred to Natives as “merciless Indian savages.” https://t.co/WXOOjRVLUB
— Simon Moya-Smith (@SimonMoyaSmith) November 5, 2019
While some called the new observation an “All Lives Matter Makeover,” others called the creation of National American History and Founders Month a deliberate slight by the Trump administration against Natives. The President has a contentious and adversarial relationship with Indigenous peoples dating to his time as a casino owner.
In case you somehow needed more evidence that @realDonaldTrump hates #Indigenous People, he just made November – which most decent people recognize as Native Heritage month – “National American History and Founders Month”
– aka those directly responsible for our genocide pic.twitter.com/j0owgc0Ijk
— nightingail🦝 (@raccorns) November 5, 2019
In the 1990s, Trump paid more than $1 million for ads portraying members of a tribe in upstate New York as cocaine traffickers and career criminals to block their bid for an Indian gaming license. The then casino owner also testified before Congress that the Natives of New York and Connecticut didn’t “look like Indians” to him in opposition to their being granted a license.
Dr. Ruth Hopkins (Dakota/Lakota) posted on Twitter:
“Normally, November is [Native American Heritage Month], but Trump has undermined that. He named November ‘National American History & Founders Month.’ The man who has repeatedly disparaged Pocahontas & mocked Wounded Knee, really hates us.”
Normally, November is #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth, but Trump has undermined that. He named November ‘National American History & Founders Month.’ The man who has repeatedly disparaged Pocahontas & mocked Wounded Knee, really hates us. https://t.co/Rkv7e5YlUy
— Ruth Hopkins (@RuthH_Hopkins) November 5, 2019
Checked in with George Washington via ouija board last night and here are his thoughts on the President’s newly declared “National American History and Founders Month.” pic.twitter.com/Nu5bciVGUw
— Seth Cotlar (@SethCotlar) November 5, 2019
Trump: *hold my beer* “I now proclaim November as national American history & founders month.”
Erasure, a celebration of colonization & genocide- it’s ongoing, always has been, he’s just a little more blatant. https://t.co/ElE7gKi9wp
— cherrywaves (@heather28df) November 5, 2019
— Beau of The Fifth Column (@BeauTFC) November 7, 2019
Native leaders like Democratic Representative Deb Haaland (Laguna Pueblo) and allies are not letting Native history be buried under an observation of the Eurocentric history every school child already learns.
Long before the 1st Europeans landed on our shores, indigenous people lived across the continent. Native Americans overcame many hardships since the onset of colonization including federally-mandated genocide & the devastating assimilation & removal eras. We’re still here. 1/2
— Rep. Deb Haaland (@RepDebHaaland) November 1, 2019
This month is set aside to celebrate Native American contributions to this country, but we must also recognize the failure of the federal government to uphold its trust responsibility to Native Nations. #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth https://t.co/yh0Y2pahQS
— Rep. Deb Haaland (@RepDebHaaland) November 1, 2019
At Indian Boarding Schools, These were considered “Teaching Tools.”
— Delores Schilling (@DelSchilling) November 1, 2019
Recognizing #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth must go beyond a simple tweet. We must center Native and Indigenous voices in the climate action movement, end the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous women, and lift up the history and contributions of Native people.
— Ilhan Omar (@IlhanMN) November 1, 2019
Native people are scientists, tribal leaders, educators, journalists, astronauts, activists, artists, actors, models, make-up artists and so much more. Indian Country Today is celebrating #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth by sharing with the world what it’s like being #NativeIn2019. pic.twitter.com/oNi7tyCAdb
— Indian Country Today (@IndianCountry) November 1, 2019
This November, the #FBI celebrates National #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth and recognizes the diversity within our ranks and the communities we serve. We specifically celebrate the achievements and contributions of Native Americans to the FBI’s mission and to our country. pic.twitter.com/WAgnDNukFG
— FBI (@FBI) November 1, 2019
— Blue Corn Comics (@bluecorncomics) November 6, 2019
The White House proclaimed November National American History & Founders Month. Makes sense. Expecting the US, responsible for genocide & erasure of Natives, to suddenly celebrate us is silly.
— Breakdances With Wolves Podcast = Baby Makin Music (@BigIndianGyasi) November 5, 2019
Trump has declared November “National American History and Founders Month.”
For my entire lifetime, it has been #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth.
Clear, blatant racism and rewriting history.
— Courtney🌱 (@ProgAdvocate) November 5, 2019
We must remember the tragic reality of the past and the foundation that this country was founded upon – stolen land and oppression. For #NativeAmericanHeritageMonth, we will elevate the voices that have gone unheard for far too long. https://t.co/Vtq5X0lweQ
— Rep. Deb Haaland (@RepDebHaaland) November 4, 2019
On October 13 2019, President Trump also issued a formal proclamation recognizing Columbus Day, but not Indigenous People’s Day. A growing number of states and municipalities have ended celebrations of Christopher Columbus citing the well documented history of his genocide of 7-10 million Natives, brutal tortures, sex trafficking, rape and slavery during his years in the Caribbean.
Trump stated at the time that the October observance would “always be Columbus Day.”
For educators looking for ways to add Native American history to their lesson plans, Native American Lesson Plans: A look into Natives today is available here.