Among the first state observances
According to the U.S. Department of the Interior, the first time an American Indian Day was formally designated in the U.S. may have been in 1916 when the governor of New York fixed the second Saturday in May for his state's observance. In 1919, the Illinois state legislature enacted a bill celebrating the fourth Friday in September as American Indian Day. In Massachusetts, the governor issued a proclamation, following a 1935 law, naming the day that would become American Indian Day in any given year.
In 1968, California Governor Ronald Reagan signed a resolution designating the fourth Friday in September as American Indian Day. While in 1998, the California State Assembly enacted legislation creating Native American Day as an official state holiday. In 1989, the South Dakota state legislature passed a bill proclaiming 1990 as the "Year of Reconciliation" between American Indian and White citizens. According to that act, South Dakota Governor George S. Mickelson designated Columbus Day as the state's American Indian Day, making it a state-sanctioned holiday.
1992 – The Year of the American Indian
The 500th anniversary of the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the western hemisphere in 1492 was the occasion for national and local celebrations. However, for Native people, it was an occasion they could neither fully embrace nor participate in.
Congress acknowledged their concerns regarding the Columbus Quincentennial by enacting Senate Joint Resolution 217 (Pub. L. 102-188), which designated 1992 as the "Year of the American Indian." It was signed by President George H.W. Bush on December 4, 1991. According to that act, President Bush issued on March 2, 1992, Proclamation 6407 announcing 1992 as the "Year of the American Indian."
The American Indian response to the anniversary was marked by public protests. Yet, it also was seen by many in American Indian community as a unique, year-long opportunity to hold public education events, commemorations of ancestral sacrifices and contributions to America, and celebrations for the survival of Native peoples over five centuries.
In 1976, the United States bicentennial year, Congress passed a resolution authorizing President Ford to proclaim a week in October as "Native American Awareness Week." On October 8, 1976, he issued his presidential proclamation doing so. Since then, Congress and the President have observed a day, a week, or a month in honor of the American Indian and Alaska Native people. While the proclamations do not set a national theme for the observance, they allow each federal department and agency to develop ways of celebrating and honoring the Nation's Native American heritage.