CHIÈVRES, Belgium -- November is Native American Indian Heritage Month, honoring American Indians and Alaskan Natives. The theme for 2018 is "Sovereignty, Trust and Resilience."

During the month, we celebrate the legacy of the first people to call America home. The Native Americans have fortified our country with their traditions and values, making tremendous contributions to every aspect of our national life.

According to Defense Equal Opportunity Management Institute, there are 567 federally recognized American Indian and Alaska Native tribes and more than 100 state-recognized tribes across the U.S. DEOMI stated that, "Each have their own distinctive history, beliefs, governance structure and culture."

The observance has a long history. In 1915, the annual Congress for the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kansas, formally approved a plan concerning American Indian Day. President Calvin Coolidge issued a proclamation Sept. 28,1915 that declared the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of American Indians as citizens. The year before the proclamation was issued, Red Fox James, a Blackfoot Indian, rode horseback from state to state seeking approval for a day to honor American Indians. On Dec. 14, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 state governments at the White House.

The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of New York. Several other states celebrated the fourth Friday in September. Additionally, several states designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continued to be a day observed without any real recognition.

In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November as 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.

In 2014, then President Barack Obama wrote, "Every year, our Nation pauses to reflect on the profound ways the First Americans have shaped our country's character and culture. The first stewards of our environment, early voices for the values that define our Nation, and models of government to our Founding Fathers -- American Indians and Alaska natives helped build the very fabric of America.Today, their spirit and many contributions continue to enrich our communities and strengthen our country."

Native Americans have influenced every stage of America's development. They are woven deeply into our nation's rich tapestry. They helped early European settlers survive and thrive in a new world.

This year, President Donald Trump wrote in his proclamation that "Our Nation is proud of and grateful for its Native American heritage and traditions, including a history of innovation and entrepreneurship. The essential contributions of Native Americans continue to strengthen our American family and brighten our future together."

The U.S. Department of Defense along with the rest of the nation, will celebrate the first people to live on the land we all value. American Indians and Alaska Natives bravely defended and shaped our country's character and our cultural heritage. American Indian and Alaskan Native patriots will continue to build legacies of freedom and diversity.

During Native American Heritage Month, we will honor the first Americans and recognize their contributions and their sacrifices.

To learn more about Native Americans and Alaskan natives, check out resources at our libraries. Read more about the history of American Indians such as Mary Gold Ross, who worked with engineers on research that would spawn the space race, or James Elliott Williams, who is the most
decorated enlisted man in the U.S. Navy history on the U.S. Army's website at https://www.army.mil/americanindians/.

USAG Benelux will celebrate the month by hosting an exhibit Nov. 30 at the SHAPE Chapel. For more information please contact DSN 361-5235 or +32(0)68-27-5235.