View of Capitol Dome from Smithsonian American Indian MuseumIn 1990 President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 “National American Indian Heritage Month.” Similar proclamations, under variants on the name (including “Native American Heritage Month” and “National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month”) have been issued each year since 1994. Most recently, President Obama issued a presidential proclamation declaring National Native American Heritage Month in November 2015.

The following agencies have all joined together to pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans:

Here are some of the most popular federal government publications related to Native American culture:

Indian Reading Series

In 1972, the Northwest Regional Educational Laboratory received funding from the National Institute of Education for the development of a community-based reading and language arts program especially for Indian children. Twelve Northwest Indian reservations actively participated in the program from its beginning. For the next 11 years, the NWREL Indian Reading & Language Development Program produced 140 culturally relevant stories written by local Indian authors and illustrated by Indian artists.

The result of this work was a unique supplementary reading and language development program for Indian and non-Indian children. The materials were authenticated by the participating tribes and field tested with over 1200 Indian and non-Indian children in 93 classrooms throughout the Northwest.

We, the First Americans

This U.S. Census publication provides a descriptive profile of the American Indian and Alaska Native populations. Characteristics such as population size, family composition, education, labor force status, occupation, income, and poverty status are presented in three sections:

  • Characteristics of the American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut Population
  • Characteristics of the American Indian, Eskimo, and Aleut Population on 10 Largest Reservations and Trust Lands
  • Characteristics of the Alaska Native Population (American Indians, Eskimos, and Aleuts) in Alaska

The most recent profile of Native American populations, based on the 2010 Census, is available online at the Bureau of the Census Web site under the title The American Indian and Alaska Native Population: 2010.

Many Nations: A Library of Congress Resource Guide for the Study of Indian and Alaska Native Peoples of the United States

The Library of Congress has a wealth of information on North American Indian people but does not have a separate collection or section devoted to them. This guide aims to help the researcher to encounter Indian people through the Library’s collections and to enhance the Library staff’s own ability to assist with that encounter.

The guide is arranged by collections or divisions within the Library and focuses on American Indian and Alaska Native peoples within the United States. Each section includes an introductory description, information on using the collections and their reading room, and descriptions or annotations for selected books and collections.

Handbook of North American Indians

This is a 20 volume encyclopedia of North American Indians to be published over a period of several years. When completed, the Handbook will give an encyclopedic summary of what is known about the prehistory, history, and cultures of the aboriginal peoples of North America who lived north of the urban civilizations of central Mexico. Each volume in this set is independent of the other volumes and contains separate chapters on all the tribes within a geographic area.

Most of the contributing authors are scholars, anthropologist and historians, but the articles are written for the general public, as well as for teachers, students, researchers, and the Native American people themselves.

Bulletins and Annual Reports of the Bureau of American Ethnology

The Bureau of American Ethnology (originally, Bureau of Ethnology) was established in 1879 by an act of Congress for the purpose of transferring archives, records and materials relating to the Indians of North America from the Interior Department to the Smithsonian Institution.

Under the leadership of the Bureau’s founding director, John Wesley Powell, the Bureau promoted the burgeoning discipline of anthropology by producing documentation (published mostly in its bulletins and annual reports), through text and illustrations, of Native American history, culture and linguistics of a depth rarely seen today. This work lasted nearly a century and played a defining role in the development of American anthropology as a discipline.

Bulletins no. 1–24 from the Bureau of Ethnology and the Bulletins 25–200 from the Bureau of American Ethnology are available online from the Biodiversity Heritage Library Web site.

Annual Reports for the years 1879 to 1894 from the Bureau of Ethnology and Annual Reports for the years 1895 to 1964 from the Bureau of American Ethnology are also available online from the Biodiversity Heritage Library Web site.

Cohen’s Handbook of Federal Indian Law

As Assistant Solicitor at Interior in the late 1930s, Felix Cohen undertook the herculean task of compiling and organizing a century and a half of treaties, statutes, judicial opinions, and administrative rulings on Indian law. His handbook, first published in 1941, provided a coherent statement of rights based on tribal and has become known as the “bible” of federal law related to Native Americans.

In the early fifties, the federal government assumed a new policy of terminating all tribes and ending federal services to Indians. The Department of the Interior under Eisenhower suppressed Cohen’s original version of the Handbook and issued a “revised” and expurgated version in 1958. The 1958 edition stressed the plenary power of the federal government over Indians and Indian tribes and de-emphasized tribal sovereignty, which was seen as a thorn in the side of the federal government.

The federal courts have exploited these differences in tone to support various points of view. For example, the Supreme Court majority opinion in the infamous Nevada v. Hicks decision in 2001 cites the anti-sovereignty edition of the handbook, while the authors of the dissenting opinion cite the original.

Congress mandated an updating of the work in the Indian Civil Rights Act of 1968, and the project was finally completed with substantially new content in 1982.

Another edition was begun in 1993 and published by LexisNexis Matthew Bender in 2005. The editors promise that this latest edition will be updated every two years. This latest edition is available online to the UNT community through LexisNexis Academic.

Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties

Compiled and edited by Charles J. Kappler

This is a historically significant, seven volume compilation of U.S. treaties, laws and executive orders pertaining to Native American Indian tribes. Volume II covers U.S. Government treaties with Native Americans from 1778-1883. The other volumes cover U.S. laws and executive orders concerning Native Americans from 1871-1970. The work was first published in 1903-04 by the U.S. Government Printing Office. Enhanced by the editors’ use of margin notations and a comprehensive index, the information contained in Kappler’s Indian Affairs: Laws and Treaties (often referred to as “Kappler’s”) is in high demand by Native peoples, researchers, journalists, attorneys, legislators, teachers and others of both Native and non-Native origins.

Indian Health Service

The Indian Health Service (IHS), an agency within the Department of Health and Human Services, is responsible for providing federal health services to American Indians and Alaska Natives.

The provision of health services to members of federally-recognized tribes grew out of the special government-to-government relationship between the federal government and Indian tribes. This relationship, established in 1787, is based on Article I, Section 8 of the Constitution, and has been given form and substance by numerous treaties, laws, Supreme Court decisions, and Executive Orders.

The HIS is the principal federal health care provider and health advocate for Indian people, and its goal is to raise their health status to the highest possible level. The HIS currently provides health services to approximately 1.9 million American Indians and Alaska Natives who belong to 566 federally recognized tribes in 35 states.

We hope you will explore these and other resources to learn more about these rich and diverse cultures. Please don’t hesitate to contact the UNT Government Information Connection if you need help with locating resources or doing research related to this topic.

Article by Bobby Griffith

Photo: View of Capitol Dome from Smithsonian American Indian Museum by Architect of the Capitol

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