For the first time, federal legislation has set aside the day after Thanksgiving -- for this year only -- to honor the contributions American Indians have made to the United States.
Frank Suniga, a descendant of Mescalero Apache Indians who lives in Oregon, said he and others began pushing in 2001 for a national day that recognizes tribal heritage.
Suniga, 79, proposed his idea to a cultural committee that is part of the Portland-based Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians. The organization took on the cause of a commemorative day, as did the National Congress of American Indians and other groups.
Congress passed legislation this year designating the day as Native American Heritage Day, and President Bush signed it last month.
Unfortunately, tribes have had virtually no time to plan events to commemorate Native American Heritage Day, said Cleora Hill-Scott, executive director of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.
“What’s difficult is this day is going to come and go without much being done,” she said.
After the Thanksgiving weekend, Suniga said, he and other advocates plan to lobby for an annual Native American Heritage Day.
It isn’t certain, however, that all tribes agree that the fourth Friday in November is the best day to recognize their contributions and traditions.
“Thanksgiving is controversial to some people,” said Joe Garcia, director of the National Congress of American Indians.