Today is Native American Day. It’s always on the fourth Friday in September. It’s a day set aside to honor and celebrate Native Americans, the first ones to live in what is now the United States.

By the time the first explorers and settlers arrived from Europe, Native Americans lived in every area of the North American continent, from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf of Mexico all the way to the northern reaches of Canada.

By far, California has the most federally recognized Indian tribes, with 97. New York State has nine – many of the names you’re familiar with, including the Seneca Nation of Indians, with a separate Tonawanda Band of Senecas being another. You’ve also heard of the Tuscaroras, the Oneidas, the Mohawks and the Cayugas.

As of last year, the Bureau of Indian Affairs officially recognizes 566 Indian tribes across the United States, with 161 others tribes acknowledged but not officially recognized. It takes about 10 years to sort through historical documents and to process their petitions to become officially recognized.

The latest Census shows 1.5 percent of the population claim to be Native American. That translates to 4.3 million people.

Western New York is rich with Native American history. Names of towns, counties and waterways are original Indian words:

  • Cheektowaga means “place of the crabapple tree”
  • Tonawanda - “land by the waters”
  • Tuscarora - “shirt weavers”
  • Gowanda - “beautiful valley among the hills”
  • Cattaraugus – “sinking shores”
  • Cayuga – “boat landing”
  • North of us, Canada means “village” and Toronto means “meeting place”

Best wishes to all Native Americans.