WASHINGTON (NNS) -- The Navy will join the nation in celebrating American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month, which will be observed Nov. 1 through Nov. 30.
The 2012 national theme, Serving Our People, Serving Our Nations: Native Visions for Future Generations encourages the nation to reflect and celebrate the cultures, histories and traditions of the indigenous peoples of North America, including parts of Alaska and the island state of Hawaii.
Today, more than 14,000 Sailors and 1,200 civilians of Native American and Alaska Native heritage serve in the Navy. According to the U.S. Department of Interior's Bureau of Indian Affairs 565 federally recognized American Indian tribes and Alaska Natives reside in the United States, composed of nearly 4.5 million American Indians and Alaska Natives, or 1.5 percent of the nation's population.
"American Indians have served in our military ranks from the birth of our country, and they continue to lend their numerous skills, abilities, and gifts to help make our Navy better," said Cmdr. Angela Katson, director of the Navy Office of Diversity and Inclusion.
Most widely remembered for their critical role as World War II Navajo Code Talkers, American Indians have served in key roles through every major U.S. military engagement both on land and at sea. Native American seamen served on continental and state vessels during the War of Independence, and even during the Civil War, as many as 20,000 Native Americans contributed to both Union and Confederate forces as auxiliary troops.
Despite being ineligible for the draft in 1917, as many as 15,000 American Indians enlisted to fight overseas during World War I. American Indians took part in every assault the U.S. Marines conducted in the Pacific from 1942 to 1945, and more than 44,000 American Indians fought in World War II, including 1,910 Sailors and several dozen WAVES (Women Accepted for Volunteer Emergency Service). Over 41,500 American Indians, of which more than 90 percent of them were volunteers, fought in the Vietnam War; between 10,000 and 15,000 American Indians and Alaska Natives fought in the Korean War and during the Cold War.
Recognized annually, Native American Heritage Month first began with the establishment of American Indian Day by the governor of New York in May of 1916. Several additional states enacted celebrations during the fourth Friday in September, but the celebration did not gain official national recognition until President George H. W. Bush approved a joint resolution designating November 1990 as "National American Indian Heritage Month." Similar proclamations under different names, including "Native American Heritage Month" and "National American Indian and Alaska Native Heritage Month," have been issued each year since 1994.
For more information about American Indians and Alaska Natives in the Navy from the Naval History and Heritage Command, visit http://www.history.navy.mil/special%20highlights/NativeAmerican/NativeAmerican-index.htm.
For more news from Chief of Naval Personnel - Navy Office Diversity and Inclusion, visit www.navy.mil/local/cnp-diversity/.