As early as 1916, when New York became the first state to declare an “American Indian Day,” efforts have been underway to acknowledge the many contributions and achievements of Native peoples. In 1976, as part of the nation’s bicentennial commemoration, S.J. Res. 209 authorized President Gerald Ford to proclaim October 10-16, 1976, as “Native American Awareness Week.” In 1986 Congress passed S.J. Res. 390, requesting that the president designate November 23–30, 1986, as “American Indian Week.” Congress continued this practice in subsequent years, declaring one week during the autumn months as “Native American Indian Heritage Week.”
In 1990 Congress passed and President George H. W. Bush signed into law a joint resolution designating the month of November as the first National American Indian Heritage Month (also known as Native American Indian Month). “American Indians were the original inhabitants of the lands that now constitute the United States of America,” noted H.J. Res. 577. “Native American Indians have made an essential and unique contribution to our Nation” and "to the world." Introduced by Hawaii senator Daniel Inouye and congressional delegate Eni Faloemavaega of American Samoa, the joint resolution 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.” In 2008 the commemorative language was amended to also include the contributions of Alaskan Natives. Every year, by statute and/or presidential proclamation, the month of November is recognized as National Native American Heritage Month.
In 1907 both Charles Curtis of Kansas and Robert Owen of Oklahoma were senators of Native American descent. Curtis was the great-great grandson of White Plume, a Kansa-Kaw chief who had offered assistance to the Lewis and Clark expedition in 1804. A Republican Party devotee, and proud of his Kaw ancestry, Curtis often quipped that he was "one-eighth Kaw Indian and 100% Republican." Owen was a member of the Cherokee Nation. He taught orphaned Cherokee children and represented the Five Civilized Tribes as a federal Indian agent before entering politics as a Progressive Democrat. In 1993 Ben Nighthorse Campbell of the Northern Cheyenne Tribe, became the third senator of Native American descent. Campbell grew up in California and moved to Colorado in 1978. He represented Colorado in the House of Representatives for six years before his election to the U.S. Senate in 1992. While in the Senate, Campbell was the first American Indian to chair the Senate Indian Affairs Committee.