Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month

Paying tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans

 Adult Learning Department

Origins of Native American Heritage Month | History of Native Peoples in Washington, D.C. | Events and Self Guided Activities | Recommended Reads | Streaming Movies and Shows | Streaming Music | Research Tools

The DC Public Library proudly celebrates Native American Heritage Month this November by sharing resources to read, watch, listen to and learn from that honor and pay tribute to the rich ancestry and traditions of Native Americans.

Origins of Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month has been declared each year since 1994 but the origins of the month date back to 1915 when Dr. Arthur C. Parker, a Seneca Indian, who was the director of the Museum of Arts and Science in Rochester, N.Y persuaded the Boy Scouts of America to set aside a day for the “First Americans.” This movement grew as the Congress of the American Indian Association declared an “American Indian Day” and several states joined in, declaring their own day. In 1990 the first Native American Heritage Month was declared and it became an annual celebration in 1994. Learn more about Native American Heritage Month. 

History of Native Peoples in Washington, D.C.

The DMV region was home to several Native Tribes, including the Nacotchtank, also known as the Anacostians who lived right in Washington, D.C. The Anacostans is a Latin version of their original name. It is derived from the native word “anaquashatanik” which is translated as “a town of traders.” With the convergence of the Anacostia and Potomac Rivers, the area served as a trading hub with other tribes in the Chesapeake area and up and down the Eastern seaboard. 

The D.C. area had a wealth of natural resources. The river provided food, water and irrigation for farming crops like corn, beans and squash. The land also provided rich hunting ground populated with turkey, deer, bison and more. We know from early maps and archaeological digs that members of the Nacotchtank tribe lived and worked in villages along the river, on Capitol Hill, by the site of the White House, near Georgetown and in the Piney Branch area. Like many other tribes on the East Coast, they lived in wigwams or longhouses. The DC Native History Project created an interactive map where you can see where artifacts have been found throughout the city. 

As European explorers and settlers came into the area, disease, violence and the seizing of land led to the death and displacement of many native people in the area. After just 40 years of contact with Europeans, only one-quarter of the tribe remained. Those members largely joined and assimilated into other tribes in the region and today there are no living members of the Nacotchtank tribe. 

There are more than a dozen tribes in the D.C. and Chesapeake region. To learn more about local tribes near D.C. you can visit these resources:

In 2020, in recognition of Native American Heritage Month, DC Public Library Executive Director Richard Reyes-Gavilan hosted members of the local Piscataway Conoy Tribe and the Piscataway Indian Nation and Tayac Territory with a special tour of the modernized Martin Luther King Jr Memorial Library. Hear from Chief Jesse James Swann, Jr. from the Piscataway Conoy Tribe, Julie Tayac Yates, Patriarch of the Piscataway Indian Nation and others who spoke during their visit in the video below. 


Events and Self Guided Activities

Celebrate Native American Heritage Month at your neighborhood library with these fun and informative events!
The First Strawberries StoryWalk: The First Strawberries
Enjoy this Cherokee legend on how strawberries came to be as you stroll along our windows on Wisconsin Ave. After, pick up a More to the Story activity packet inside.
Tenley-Friendship Library
November is Native American Heritage Month Draw My World
Join us for a special program for Native American Heritage Month! In this program we will recreate Native American portraits. Learn new techniques & create something unique! Don't Forget to bring a friend!
Wednesday, Nov. 9, 4 p.m.
Capitol View Library
craft materials Read and Craft: Code Talkers
Celebrate Native American Heritage Month and learn about secret codes and how to make and decode them, including: the "unbreakable" Navajo code, the cipher wheel, and the pigpen cipher.
Thursday, Nov. 10, 3 p.m.
Shaw/Watha T. Daniel Library
Close up of reindeer head and sharp horns Mt. Pleasant Reads: The Only Good Indians
In honor of Native American Heritage Month, we'll be reading Stephen Graham Jones' tale of horror and revenge, "The Only Good Indians." 
Wednesday, Nov. 16, 7 p.m.
Mt. Pleasant Library
Map illustrating the variety of Indigenous Peoples who live in North America as well as their ancestral territories Learn About Indigenous Peoples
Join us in celebrating Native American Heritage Month by learning about the First Nations Peoples who have always lived here!
Saturday, Nov. 26, 11 a.m.
Mt. Pleasant Library
When Two Feathers Fell From The Sky: 9780358554837: Verble, Margaret: Books  - Calendars and Clocks Book Club: When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky
Join us in November for the second meeting of the Calendars and Clocks Book Club. We will be reading When Two Feathers Fell From the Sky by Margaret Verble
Monday, Nov. 28, 6 p.m.
Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Library
See more upcoming events on the Library's calendar.

Recommended Reads




Fiction Books for Adults

Nonfiction Books for Adults

eBooks and Audiobooks for All Ages

Streaming Movies and Shows

Movies and Shows in Kanopy Molly of Denali: Season 1 Molly of Denali Season One
And Now We Rise 
The Ride: The Annual Chief Big Foot Memorial Ride
On a Knife Edge: A Lakota Teenager Fights for Social Justice.
We Breathe Again: The Stories of Four Alaska Native People
Urban Rez: The Repercussions of the Native American Urban Relocation Program 
Medicine Woman: The Story of America’s First Native Medical Doctor
Movies on Access Videos Our Fires Still Burn: The Native American Experience
We Shall Remain: America Through Native Eyes 
Native America 

Streaming Music

  • This playlist from Freegal is called Spirit Song. Listen here.
  • American Indian Music in Music Online: Smithsonian Global Sound for Libraries. Listen here.

Research Tools

Enrich your understanding of Native American Heritage Month with the Library's digital resources.

Ethnic NewsWatch Ethnic News Watch
Access full issues of Native American publications from The Native Voice, The Circle: News from an American Indian Perspective, Navajo Times and more.
National Geographic Virtual Library National Geographic Virtual Library
Read full-text articles and books, watch videos and view images, including the title Native Universe: Voices of Indian America and others.
NoveList Plus NoveList
List of authors & their books where the author’s cultural identity is Native American
Very Short Introductions
Check out titles exploring Native American History and Literature with these intelligent and serious introductions written by authors who are experts in their field.
Find more resources in goDigital.