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Indigenous Peoples' Day, What to Know about the Holiday

Posted by Sara Cooper | Oct 04, 2023 | 0 Comments

Only two U.S. Presidents have recognized Indigenous Peoples' Day, including President Joe Biden.

According to NPR, in 2021, President Biden had issued a proclamation to make the observation of the holiday on October 9th, to honor Indigenous individuals of the Americas, for their dedications and strengths throughout the history of this land despite the tortures, traumas, and trials they have faced from one tribe to another and throughout today. This is for the purpose as well to take away the attention of Colombus Day, whom the same date of that holiday is also on October 9th.  

Covered by NPR, “Dylan Baca, a 19-year-old Arizonan who was instrumental in helping broker the first proclamation, was overwhelmed by the gravity of Biden's action.”

"I still don't think I've fully absorbed what that has meant," he said to NPR in 2021. "This is a profound thing the president has done, and it's going to mean a lot to so many people."

Half a decade ago, Baca had started an organization in collaboration with Senator Jamescita Peshlakai from Arizona called the Indigenous Peoples' Initiative, with a similar mission: to tell a more positive and more accurate tale of Native Americans by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Advocates of Indigenous Peoples' Day speak out about centering Indigenous communities with recognitions helps deteriorate white supremacist history of America that has uplifted violent leaders such as Christopher Colombus. The narratives that have disarrayed Indigenous tribes and their members has impacted them negatively on all systemic levels and from non-Natives as a whole. It makes the false story of Colombus discovering America when Indigenous persons were here first, a strong story that is enforced intentionally, but not no more.  

"It is difficult to grapple with the complete accomplishments of individuals and also the costs of what those accomplishments came at," said Mandy Van Heuvelen, the cultural interpreter coordinator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.

There isn't an exact method on how to celebrate and honor the holiday, said Van Heuvelen, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from South Dakota. According to her, “It's all about reflection, recognition, celebration and an education.”

"It can be a day of reflection of our history in the United States, the role Native people have played in it, the impacts that history has had on native people and communities, and also a day to gain some understanding of the diversity of Indigenous peoples," she said.

According to NPR, “The idea was first proposed by Indigenous peoples at a United Nations conference in 1977 held to address discrimination against Nativesas NPR has reported. But South Dakota became the first state to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples day in 1989, officially celebrating it the following year.”

For Biden making this proclamation, this is now a tradition that more and more states are acknowledging for the past few years. Ten states and Washington, D.C., now recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day via proclamation, and 10 states officially celebrate it. 100 cities recognize the day, and many replaced Colombus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Without the grand efforts and hard work on Indigenous communities, this would not have happened.

“What might seem to some like a simple name change can lead to real social progress for Indigenous Americans,” said Van Heuvelen as reported by NPR.

"What these changes accomplish, piece by piece, is visibility for Native people in the United States," she said. "Until Native people are or are fully seen in our society and in everyday life, we can't accomplish those bigger changes. As long as Native people remain invisible, it's much more easier for people to look past those real issues and those real concerns within those communities."

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