The Friday after Thanksgiving: Native American Heritage Day or Black Friday?

By Celeste Mittelman

Native American Heritage Day is a national holiday celebrated annually on the day after Thanksgiving, which falls on November 25 this year. National recognition of this holiday was signed into law in 2008, with the Native American Heritage Day Bill. The bill was formally supported by 184 federally recognized tribes alongside the Indian Gaming Association, an organization that works to protect tribal sovereignty and tribes’ ability to achieve economic self-sufficiency. They advocated for the national holiday hoping that it would encourage all Americans to acknowledge the horrific crimes that the United States committed against the Indigenous people who originally inhabited this land. They also to inspire recognition of the contributions of Native Americans throughout history. In particular, the tribes hoped the bill would lead public elementary and secondary schools to incorporate this history into their curriculums of public elementary and secondary schools ( 

Ironically, however, the holiday falls on Black Friday, the unofficial day of capitalism that marks the beginning of the Christmas shopping season. As a result, Native American Heritage Day is routinely overshadowed by the promotion of unique sales and a cultural celebration of the capitalist system. Many Native Americans have suggested moving the holiday, including Simon Moya-Smith, a journalist and activist from the Oglala Lakota Nation. In an interview with WBUR, he stated, “Native American Heritage Day falls on Black Friday, a day of excess and gluttony and greed and aggressive capitalism. And that’s in extremely poor taste. When you look at our values as Indigenous people, it’s not materialistic. As indigenous people, especially if you look at what happened at Standing Rock, we say honor the water. Honor the earth. Honor the people. And on this specific day, it’s the complete opposite of what we teach our youth and what’s taught to us and what we value.” This holiday’s placement makes its observation rare and detracts from a true celebration of what Moya-Smith calls “our values as indigenous people” which are “not materialistic.”

The result of the holiday’s date is evident in the lack of awareness about Native American Heritage Day. At Winsor, most students did not know that the day after Thanksgiving was a national holiday. Changing the date of this holiday so that it no longer falls on Black Friday could increase awareness of the history of European colonialism, but there’s no guarantee that a new date would truly make a difference. Addressing the lack of comprehensive education on Native American history requires a systematic review of our curriculum and incorporating these stories beyond a day of observance. Emeline Daley ’24 said, “I do remember learning about [Native American History] when I was younger, but we mostly studied the pilgrims perspective and I haven’t been formally taught about it since then.” Additionally, one senior noted, “I’ve never been taught much about Native American History in school, and I feel like I never really hear about this holiday in popular culture the way I do with Women’s History Month or Black History Month.” Many courses at Winsor briefly include Native American history, but fail to provide students with a comprehensive understanding of the diverse experiences of Native Americans thoughout history or the nuanced issues that modern Tribes face. An annual observance of Native American Heritage Day during schoolwide assemblies would help ensure that our community does not further the general lack of education on Native American history.