Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, former Director, Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y, was instrumental in implementing the first American Indian Day. For three years, he successfully influenced the Boy Scouts of America to honor a day for the "First Americans." In 1915, the annual Congress of the American Indian Association formally approved a plan concerning American Indian Day. It directed its President, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, an Arapahoe, to call upon the country to observe such a day. Rev. Coolidge issued a proclamation on Sept. 28, 1915, which declared the second Saturday of each May as an American Indian Day and contained the first formal appeal for recognition of Indians as citizens.
The year before this proclamation was issued, Red Fox James, a Blackfeet Indian, rode horseback from State to State seeking approval for a day to honor Indians. On December 14, 1915, he presented the endorsements of 24 State governments at the White House. There is no record, however, of such a national day being proclaimed.
The first American Indian Day in a state was declared on the second Saturday in May 1916 by the governor of N.Y. Several states celebrate the fourth Friday in September. In Illinois, for example, legislators enacted such a day in 1919. Presently, several states have designated Columbus Day as Native American Day, but it continues to be a day we observe without any recognition as a national legal holiday.
In 1990, President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 "National American Indian Heritage Month."
(Source: U.S. Dept. of the Interior, Bureau of Indian Affairs)