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Native American Heritage Month

Native American Heritage Month is observed in November to call attention to the culture, traditions, and achievements of the nation’s original inhabitants and of their descendants.

The official designation of November as National Native American Heritage Month was signed into law in 1990. The celebration is sometimes referred to as American Indian Heritage Month.

Diane Humetewa: First Female Native American Federal Judge

U.S. District Judge Diane J. Humetewa is the first female Native American judge to serve on the federal bench.

Humetewa grew up in Phoenix and on her Hopi ancestral lands. She is frequently asked about growing up in two worlds: participating in school and social activities in Phoenix while adhering to the Hopi way of life as an enrolled member of the tribe. 

“It’s one world in my view,” said Humetewa. “I would do all the things that high school kids would do … but perhaps on the weekend we’d have to go to the reservation.”

In 2007, seven years prior to her historic appointment to the federal bench, Humetewa was the first Native American woman to serve as a U.S. Attorney in the District of Arizona. Her story is one of dedication to public service.

Chief Standing Bear’s Declaration of Humanity

Standing Bear v. Crook was a landmark Native American civil rights case decided in 1879. The decision in the case was the first time a Native American was recognized – not as a ward of the government – but as a person under the law who has inalienable rights of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.

Chief Standing Bear’s declaration of his humanity in a powerful courtroom speech established him as one of the nation’s earliest civil rights heroes.

Standing Bear’s journey for justice took an unexpected turn at the close of his trial in a Nebraska federal court. After the legal proceeding ended, he claimed his humanity, saying: “I am a man.” His bravery and brief, but eloquent speech established him in the constellation of early civil rights heroes and allies.  Standing Bear is believed to be the first Native American to speak in open court. As for his government foes, he defeated them in the same courtroom in what is now known as the U.S. District Court for the District of Nebraska.

Today, a sculpture of Chief Standing Bear occupies a place of honor in the U.S. Capitol’s Statuary Hall. The nine-foot-plus statue of Standing Bear depicts him extending his hand as he did in his famous courtroom speech. Standing Bear died in 1908, and 90 years later a bridge across the Missouri River was named for him.

DISCLAIMER: These resources are created by the Administrative Office of the U.S. Courts for educational purposes only. They may not reflect the current state of the law, and are not intended to provide legal advice, guidance on litigation, or commentary on any pending case or legislation.