It may be a small step, but a day meant to honor American Indians' contributions acknowledges a history and culture that many say is often overlooked.
For the first time, federal legislation has set aside the day after Thanksgiving — for this year only — to honor American Indians in the U.S. Few celebrations are planned this year, but backers say they hope to make the commemoration annual.
Frank Suniga, 79, of Salem, Ore., a descendant of Mescalero Apache Indians, said he and others began pushing in 2001 for a national day that recognizes his and other tribes' heritage.
Congress passed legislation this year designating the day as Native American Heritage Day, and President Bush signed it last month.
There's a bit of a question, though, of which day would be best. I think the day after Thanksgiving is a poor choice, myself, in that it would get overshadowed by everything else. But some advocates say that linking it with Thanksgiving, which is supposedly about European-Native American relations, is a good idea.
The Portland and D.C.-based organizations said they would support an annual commemorative day. It isn't certain, however, that all tribes would agree that the fourth Friday in November is the best day to recognize their contributions and traditions.
"The question is, should it be the day after Thanksgiving?" said Joe Garcia, director of the National Congress of American Indians. "Thanksgiving is controversial to some people."
Recognizing American Indians the day after Thanksgiving, the Native American Heritage Day Act of 2008 says, emphasizes the nation's relationship with tribes now.
"I think the recognition is important," Garcia said. "The most important thing it does is give a little more perspective from the American Indian side."
I hope they succeed in making this an annual thing. That would be great.