Celebrating Native American Heritage Month at IAIA


Native American Heritage Recognition, which first started in 1915, was only celebrated for one day. However, in 1990, it was changed to being celebrated for one month.

Recognition of Native American or “First Americans” was advocated by Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, and the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y. He convinced the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day to recognize Native Americans.

For three years it was celebrated as such, until 1915. During the annual Congress of the American Indian Association meeting in Lawrence, Kan., a plan was approved concerning American Indian Day.

On Sept. 28, 1915, The Congress of American Indian Association directed its president, Rev. Sherman Coolidge, to issue a proclamation declaring that the second Saturday of each May as the designated date to formally recognize Native Americans as citizens on American Indian Day.

Over the years, American Indian Day was celebrated at different times of the year. Several states celebrated it in September, while many other celebrated American Indian Day on Columbus Day.

In 1990, President George H.W. Bush appointed November as National American Indian Heritage Month, thus changing the recognition of Native Americans from one day to one month out of the year.

Native American Heritage Month at IAIA

Starting off the celebrations, IAIA’s Native American Heritage Committee members sent out a flyer to students, staff, and faculty, advertising Rock Your Mocs.

Rock Your Mocs (photo by David Toledo, The Southern Ute Drum www.sudrum.com)

At IAIA, Rock Your Mocs happened all month long. Students, staff, and faculty could wear their traditional moccasins on any day.

Rock Your Mocs is a worldwide Native American and Indigenous Peoples movement that has been held annually in November since 2011. Mocs or moccasins have been an identifier for Indigenous people.

Wearing your mocs is the easiest way to participate in celebrating indigeneity.

If a person did not own a pair of moccasins or did not have their moccasins with them, a turquoise awareness ribbon was available to wear instead.

Nov. 15 is Rock Your Mocs Day

Jessica Jaylyn Atsye (photo from New York Post)

Rock Your Mocs was first started in 2011 by Jessica “Jaylyn” Atsye of Laguna Pueblo. In an interview conducted by Colorlines.com, Atsye explains that the idea came to her as a joke one day after a ceremony she attended.

She had joked with her mother saying, “These Mocs are so comfortable, I wish I could wear them every day.”

Moccasins are a major part of indigenous culture.

Atsye started the Rock your Mocs movement on Facebook.  It has grown to be a big part of Native American Heritage month.

Nov. 15 is the official Rock Your Mocs Day, which Atsye chose at random.

Other Activities

On Nov. 14, the IAIA community was invited to attend a food tasting on campus. Everyone who attended was asked to bring a traditional dish, something that their own community prepares.

Examples would be Pueblo oven bread. Jemez Pueblo enchiladas etc.

Food Tasting (photo from IAIA flyer)

On Nov. 16, IAIA hosted Laguna tribal members, Daryl Kowemy and Sheila Davis, to demonstrate cultural items and clothing.

Kowemy is a traditional belt weaver and Davis is a traditional potter maker.

The IAIA community also had the opportunity to see current IAIA Hopi student Kyle Kootswatewa demonstrate his handmade traditional basket.

All items made during the demonstration, as well as premade items, were on sale afterward.

Photo part of Grab documentary by Billy Luther

On Nov. 21, the IAIA community participated in the first grab day hosted by the Native American Heritage Committee. A grab or give away is a Pueblo tradition of generosity and giving.

Along with grab day, there was a screening, on Nov. 20, In the IAIA auditorium for a documentary titled, “Grab,” by Billy Luther. The documentary gives a glimpse into intimate portrait of grab day in the villages of Laguna Pueblo

Finishing off Native American Heritage Month IAIA had a tribal hunting Presentation on Nov. 28.

This was an opportunity for the IAIA community to learn about hunting practices from an indigenous perspective.

The community also had a chance to taste deer jerky.

Tribal Hunting (Photo from IAIA flyer)

During IAIA’s monthly community gathering lunch, the IAIA community had the honor of having students from Bernalillo middle and high school tribal dancers from Santa Ana Pueblo.

The dancers and singers performed in IAIA’s Center for Lifelong Education building upstairs in the commons.

Bernalillo middle and high school dancers (Photo by Pearlyne Coriz)

After the community gathering was over the student from Bernalillo middle and high school, danced once again in the dance circle, located in the center of campus.

It was a beautiful way to end such a joyous celebration of Native Americans and Indigenous Peoples of the world.

(Featured Photo by Pearlyne Coriz)


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