Delphine Red Shirt: National holiday needed for Native Americans

Delphine Red Shirt. Photo by Rich Luhr

Native American Heritage Month
By Delphine Red Shirt
Lakota Country Times Columnist

In 1915, Dr. Arthur C. Parker, Seneca, convinced the Boy Scouts to set aside a day for the “First Americans” and until 1918, they did. Thereafter the first American Indian Day was declared by the governor of New York, for the second Saturday of May in 1916.

Today, several states designate Columbus Day as Native American Day, but there is no national legal holiday. With many more highly educated Indians all over the country, maybe this will change?

The fact that a question on whether or not a national holiday should be declared that is tied to Columbus Day is problematic. Since the time of contact when it comes to American Indians we are always up against a national diversion. Whether it is baseball, the World Series and the Cleveland “Indians” uniform depicting us as a caricature. Until twenty-five years ago when President George H.W. Bush, a Republican, approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as “National American Indian Heritage Month” most Americans thought we no longer existed.

Other government agencies including the Library of Congress, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the National Gallery of Art, the National Park Service, the Smithsonian Institution, the U.S. national Archives and Records Administration, and the United States Holocaust Memorial Museum have collaborated to bring more awareness.

The last of these, the U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum is perhaps the most significant “friend” of the “American Indian.” Just as the U.S. has witnessed for the holocaust victims in the second World War, the Holocaust Memorial Museum through its support “witnesses” for American Indians. The losses are different throughout this great nation, but are very real for American Indians.

For the Mnikawozu or planters beside the stream, who now reside on the Cheyenne River Reservation, the Wounded Knee Massacre was a holocaust. Historian Robert M. Utley refers to it as a holocaust, “The burial detail later interred 146 on the battlefield: 84 men and boys, 44 women, and 18 children.” Utley stated that 51 were wounded and 7 later died; he says, “Few indeed of Big Foot’s people escaped death or injury.” It would not be a minor observation to state that the Mnikawozu warriors, tall and strong, lead the fiercest battle in Dakota/Lakota/Nakota history at the Battle of the Greasy Grass; where the same Seventh Cavalry that massacred Big Foot had suffered losses under the Mnikawozu along with Custer.

Other losses throughout the U.S. include Sand Creek; loss of life along many forced marches including the Trail of Tears; loss of population due to colonization by the Spanish in the California missions; the list goes on. If we were to scan the horizon, what is not included in American History tells us the real story of a holocaust.

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When children in the California public school system study California mission Indian history they learn about the conversion of the child-like “Mission Indians”; hidden between the lines is what historians now call a “myth." Real history reveals the truth about the “alarming population history” of the California Mission Indians. Where in 1769 there were about 300,000 Indians in California, with about 60,000 Indians living between what is now San Francisco Bay and San Diego. After the Spanish came with their whips and forced conversion, the population fell to about 150,000 in the whole state of California. The “disease” that many died of was syphilis a sexually transmitted disease brought by Spanish soldiers.

The day that American History includes these stories about the Mnikawozu, the Cherokee who were forced to leave Georgia, and the California “Mission Indians,” most Americans won’t need to be told what “Native American Heritage Month” means. Then, the next step would be a National American Indian/Native American Day close to July 4th, the day designated as Independence Day because if it were not for the land freedom would not have been possible; that every step on this great continent should be a reminder of who the First Americans were and are today.

(Delphine Red Shirt can be reached at

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