5 Things To Know About Indigenous Peoples Day
12 states and 130 cities are celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day for the first time.
October 14, 2019 at 6:32 pm
Indigenous Peoples Day has gained rabid popularity in the last few years as a way for Americans to not only honor Native Americans but to rebuke the celebration of Christopher Columbus.
Columbus Day was popularized in the late 1800s but gained national prominence in the late 1900s, partially as a way to honor Italian Americans. However, when Columbus' real historical actions became widely known, Native Americans and other groups pushed cities and states to move away from the holiday. Columbus originally landed on what is now known as Haiti in 1492.
As soon as Columbus and his crew landed, they immediately began raping and killing the peaceful Taíno natives on the island. Columbus sent thousands of Tainos back to Spain as part of the slave trade and became governor and viceroy of the Indies. He massacred millions and laid the groundwork for what would become the international slave trade.
"Today we understand that while [Columbus] was an explorer and is credited with being one of the first Europeans to arrive in the Americas, we now know a great deal about the history and the way that he and his people behaved when they came to this continent," Shannon Speed, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center, told NPR.
"Which included pillaging, raping and generally setting in motion a genocide of the people who were already here. That's not something we want to celebrate. That's not something anyone wants to celebrate," Speed said.
The state of South Dakota was the first to create an Indigenous Peoples Day in 1989, and since then, dozens of states, towns and cities have joined them in scrapping Columbus Day to honor Native Americans.
In a statement to NBC News, Native American Rep. Deb Haaland said, "Celebrating Columbus Day continues a dangerous narrative that erases Native American voices and minimizes the federal government’s attempt at genocide and forced assimilation.”
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about acknowledging indigenous peoples’ complex history in this country and celebrating the culture, heritage, and strength of native communities everywhere,” Haaland said.
Here are five things you need to know about Indigenous Peoples Day.
1. How It Got Started
By the late 1970s, Indigenous groups across the Americas started to make concrete moves to condemn the celebration of Columbus Day and focus on an indigenous celebration.
With backing from the U.N., the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas began to formulate plans on how to influence states to shun Columbus Day.
After this group protested in San Francisco, others followed in Denver, Boston, Columbus and Philadelphia. Each protest celebrated "500 years of resistance" – highlighting that Native Americans are still here, and refuse to celebrate a murderer. (4/11)
— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 14, 2019
Throughout the 1990s, activists focused their efforts on town and cities in California, forcing many to end Columbus Day celebrations. Hawaii, Oregon and South Dakota are the three U.S. states that do not celebrate Columbus Day at all. South Dakota was the first to honor its indigenous population with a day celebrating them.
The endless protests in cities from Boston to Berkley prompted a number of local legislatures to pass laws removing Columbus Day and celebrating Native Americans.
2. The Controversy And Backlash
Italian Americans have taken issue with attempts to remove Columbus Day because it began as an effort to positively portray the group at a time when they were routinely discriminated against. The commemorations of the holiday were started a year after 11 Italians were lynched in New Orleans.
Other non-Italians have defended the holiday and the actions of Columbus as necessary events that precipitated the creation of the United States.
This dispute has often turned ugly, with clashing rallies and protests occurring in cities like New York and Boston. Groups have also taken issue with damage done to statues of Columbus.
— ABC News (@ABC) October 14, 2019
— CNN (@CNN) October 14, 2019
On Sunday, statues in San Francisco and Providence, Rhode Island, were spray-painted red or doused with red paint. Washington Post columnist Henry Olsen wrote a piece on Monday bashing attempts to change the holiday. Like many others over the years, he tied his argument to other defenses used for slave owners and Confederate generals. In his eyes, honoring these men with holidays, statues and plaques was the only way to remember them.
"By renaming the holiday Indigenous People’s Day, they have decided to emphasize the sorrier aspects of Western colonization and conquest of the Americas rather than its virtues," he claims in the piece.
"Western civilization remains, for all its historical faults, the noblest civilization mankind has yet devised. It, more than any other major civilization today, has emphasized the dignity and unique worth of each and every person," he claimed.
3. What Native Americans Say About The Holiday
Baley Champagne, a tribal citizen of the United Houma Nation in Louisiana, was one of the people behind her state's decision to change over to Indigenous Peoples Day.
She told NPR that she was excited to celebrate the day for the first time in her state and said it was long overdue.
"It's about celebrating people instead of thinking about somebody who actually caused genocide on a population or tried to cause the genocide of an entire population," Champagne said.
"By bringing Indigenous Peoples' Day, we're bringing awareness that we're not going to allow someone like that to be glorified into a hero, because of the hurt that he caused to Indigenous people of America," she added.
"Look around. There’s an eclectic mix of people here. Indigenous. Black people. Anglos, allies from around the world. That makes it special,” he said at his event on Randalls Island.
“This isn’t a day about protesting Columbus, it’s about celebrating indigenous people,” he said.
4. What States Have Created An Indigenous Peoples Day?
The push to remove Columbus Day has gained an immense amount of steam this year, with multiple states passing laws designed to condemn the day and celebrate each state's Native population. Just last week, Washington D.C. city council voted to change the city's Columbus Day celebration to Indigenous Peoples Day.
Other states like New Mexico, Vermont and Maine have made legislative moves to change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. When Maine Governor Janet Mills signed legislation changing the holiday in April, she said it was a necessary shift as our country learns to understand its history.
“Our history is by no means perfect. But, for too long, it has been written and presented in a way that fails to acknowledge our shortcomings,” said Governor Mills.
“There is power in a name and in who we choose to honor. Today, we take another step in healing the divisions of the past, in fostering inclusiveness, in telling a fuller, deeper history, and in bringing the State and Maine’s tribal communities together to build a future shaped by mutual trust and respect,” Mills added.
In addition to Washington D.C., 12 states now honor Indigenous People's Day as well as 130 cities.
These are some of the places celebrating #IndigenousPeoplesDay instead of Columbus Day for the first time today:
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— AJ+ (@ajplus) October 14, 2019
5. How Is It Celebrated?
Each state has a different kind of Indigenous Peoples Day celebration that relate to the customs of local indigenous groups.
New Mexico is honoring the holiday by holding a massive invocation with members of several tribes at the Indian Pueblo Cultural Center in Albuquerque. They plan to have each tribe's leaders sing in their own language in unison as others enjoy parades and traditional dances. Despite having one of the country's largest Columbus statues, New York City is also home to a massive indigenous people's celebration.
Other states are holding similar events with members of local tribes. However, social media has also been flooded with ideas and things Native Americans are doing to celebrate the day.
Kind of amazing that my 3 year-old is currently growing up in a world where she only knows Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and has no idea who Columbus is.
We told her about the “bullies” who came to America, and she asked who the heroes are—we told her that it’s the Indigenous people. pic.twitter.com/34u4Plvc6F
— Meena Harris (@meenaharris) October 14, 2019
If you have a sec, watch our @beardfoundation-nominated documentary on Native American cuisine, the oldest cuisine of the land we today call "America."
— Yara Elmjouie (@yelmjouie) October 14, 2019
— kam???? (@kamgleason) October 14, 2019
— Women's March (@womensmarch) October 14, 2019
Happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay to all the indigenous folks!
And a special happy #IndigenousPeoplesDay2019 to all of my indigenous siblings fighting to protect Mother Earth from further colonial destruction.
You are the original climate activists and your work is crucial. pic.twitter.com/iHN1T7R0Vt
— Jamie Margolin (@Jamie_Margolin) October 14, 2019
Minneapolis was the first city to make the shift to #IndigenousPeoplesDay after Berkeley did it in 1992.
Now over 130 cities and 8 states recognize it. pic.twitter.com/1H8xUhKb3s
— asiniiwiikwe//ashley fairbanks (@ziibiing) October 14, 2019
Native Hawaiians, American Indians & Alaskan Natives are the indigenous peoples of this land. Today we celebrate their rich culture & diverse history while also remembering the grave injustices they have all endured. Happy #indigenouspeoplesday
— Kai Kahele (@kaikahele) October 14, 2019
For many indigenous people, #ColumbusDay is a state-sponsored celebration of the history of violence inflicted upon their communities. Introduce a bipartisan #IndigenousPeoplesDay resolution to take one step towards correcting that failure and acknowledge our true history. pic.twitter.com/Ag7XUqPj6G
— Rep. Norma Torres (@NormaJTorres) October 11, 2019
Hopefully next year, even more states will move toward replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.