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Celebrating National American Indian Heritage Month

Photo of Senator Robert Owen of Oklahoma
Robert Owen (D-OK)

In 1990, Congress passed and President George H. W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution designating the month of November 1990 as the first “National American Indian Heritage Month.” This legislation, introduced by Hawaii Senator Daniel Inouye and Congressional Delegate Eni Faloemavaega of American Samoa, stated that, “the President is authorized and requested to issue a proclamation calling upon Federal, State, and local governments, interested groups and organizations, and the people of the United States to observe the month with appropriate programs, ceremonies, and activities.” The origins of this month-long observance date back to 1916 when New York became the first state to declare an “American Indian Day.”

To date, there have been three United States senators of known Native American descent. Two of the three took office in 1907: Charles Curtis of Kansas and Robert Owen of Oklahoma. Curtis, of Kaw descent, distinguished himself in the Senate by becoming the institution’s first official majority leader in 1925. He was later elected the 31st Vice President of the United States. Owen, a Cherokee, was an expert on national banking policy and spearheaded the creation of the Senate Banking Committee in 1913. Most recently, Ben Nighthorse Campbell of Colorado, a member of the Northern Cheyenne tribe, served two terms in the Senate from 1993 to 2005.


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