NATIONAL NEWS

What Indigenous Peoples’ Day means to Native Americans

Oct 10, 2022, 12:57 PM | Updated: 12:59 pm
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10: Chali'Naru Dones, with the United Confederation of Taino People, dances in...
BOSTON, MA - OCTOBER 10: Chali'Naru Dones, with the United Confederation of Taino People, dances in the Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park during the Indigenous Peoples Day rally and march in Boston on Oct. 10, 2020. The United American Indians of New England organized a demonstration on Saturday to continue the ongoing movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day and to demand the City remove the Columbus statue from Christopher Columbus Waterfront Park for good. (Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)
(Photo by Erin Clark/The Boston Globe via Getty Images)

(CNN) — For centuries, the US celebrated Christopher Columbus as the intrepid explorer who discovered the Americas — a symbol of the American ideals of entrepreneurship and innovation.

The story of the Italian navigator taught to generations of schoolchildren is shrouded in mythology. But for the Indigenous peoples who inhabited the Americas long before Columbus ever arrived, Columbus and his namesake holiday represent something much more sinister: the violent colonization of their lands and the brutal treatment of their people.

The movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been decades in the making. As a result of advocacy by Native American activists, many states and localities now observe the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of — or in addition to — Columbus Day. That shift has since reached the federal level — last year, President Joe Biden became the first president to formally acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“It’s long overdue,” David Weeden, tribal historic preservation officer for the Mashpee Wampanoag Tribe, told CNN. “When you look back on all that we’ve endured and sacrificed, all the systemic oppression at the hands of various levels of governments and agencies and programs and everything else, the fact that we are still here is amazing.”

Here’s the history behind Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and what it means to Native Americans.

Momentum has been building for decades

To understand the history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it’s important to understand how Columbus Day came about.

Columbus had been celebrated unofficially around the US since the late 1700s. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation commemorating the 400th anniversary of his landing. As waves of Italian immigrants arrived in the US in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, they faced prejudice and discrimination. To combat negative perceptions, a group of Italian American elites took up the cause of Columbus Day, arguing that the contributions of Italian immigrants had helped make America the nation it was. In 1934, President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated Columbus Day a national holiday.

The narrative around Columbus Day helped uphold “the new racial order that would emerge in the US in the 20th century, one in which the descendants of diverse ethnic European immigrants became ‘White’ Americans,” historian Malinda Maynor Lowery wrote in a 2019 article for The Conversation.

Eventually, Native Americans began to challenge the history behind it.

Inspired by the Civil Rights Movement, Native American activists in the late 1960s formed the Red Power Movement, built on principles of self-determination and cultural pride. At a 1977 United Nations conference in Geneva, Indigenous delegates from around the world resolved “to observe October 12, the day of so-called ‘discovery’ of America, as an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.”

It would be longer before their calls were adopted. South Dakota became the first to officially celebrate the day (calling it Native American Day) in 1990. The city of Berkeley, California, embraced Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992 as a protest to the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival. Now, numerous states and more than 130 cities observe the holiday.

It’s a time for reflection

For some, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an occasion to consider the history of the US and how it has treated Native people.

“It’s a time to reflect on all that we’ve been through as a people: How much we endured, how much we’ve persevered and how much we still have to continue to fight for — for ourselves, for generations before us and for generations that will come after us,” Weeden said.

Kitcki Carroll, an enrolled citizen of the Cheyenne and Arapaho Tribes of Oklahoma and executive director of United South and Eastern Tribes, Inc., sees the day as an opportunity to tell a different story about the US.

Indigenous people have often been erased from the country’s historical record — a survey from the National Congress of American Indians found that 87% of state history standards don’t mention Native American history after 1900, while 27 states don’t mention Native Americans in their K-12 curriculum.

Yet Native people continue to have a presence here, while the lands and natural resources that were taken from them became foundational to this country, Carroll said.

“The United States has evolved over time become the most powerful and wealthy nation the world has ever known,” he said. “It has Indian Country to thank for that.”

For others, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about reclaiming power and celebrating progress. Crystal Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and CEO of the social justice organization IllumiNative, points to the gains that Indigenous people have made in recent years, from political representation to media visibility.

“For too long, Native peoples have been rendered invisible or misrepresented in popular culture and media, but Native peoples are no longer tolerating or settling for erasure,” she wrote in an email to CNN. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day serves as a reminder of the diversity and depth of Native peoples, and how hard we’ve had to work for recognition and visibility.”

It’s also a call to action

For all of its emphasis on commemorating Indigenous history and culture, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also a time to move forward and look to the future.

Some Indigenous leaders use the holiday as an opportunity to draw attention to issues that continue to affect Native Americans today, including climate change, tribal sovereignty and land rights.

Carroll noted that the Biden administration has been taking steps in the right direction when it comes to the country’s relationships with tribal nations — in Biden’s proclamation last year, he committed the US to “honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.” Having Deb Haaland as Interior Secretary also strengthened those efforts, Carroll said.

Weeden said he hoped that Indigenous Peoples’ Day might ignite discussions on reparations and how the US might better empower tribal nations to be more self-sufficient.

“We deserve a right to remain in our ancestral homes,” he said. “We deserve to be able to eat from the waters and the lands that have sustained us for thousands of years.”


The-CNN-Wire™ & © 2022 Cable News Network, Inc., a Warner Bros. Discovery Company. All rights reserved.

KSL 5 TV Live

Top Stories

National News

Six-year-old Mason Stonehouse was playing on his dad’s phone before bedtime and spent about $1,00...
CNN

Michigan six-year-old orders $1,000 worth of food on Grubhub

A six-year-old as playing on his dad's phone before bedtime and spent about $1,000 on Grubhub orders.
12 hours ago
FILE - U.S. Secret Service agents are seen in front of Joe Biden's Rehoboth Beach, Del., home on Ja...
Eric Tucker, Colleen Long and Zeke Miller, Associated Press

Biden lawyer: FBI finds no classified docs at beach house

The Federal Bureau of Investigation searched President Joe Biden's vacation home in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware, on Wednesday without finding any classified documents, the president's personal attorney said.
12 hours ago
Soundgarden performs on stage for Guitar Hero game...
Mark Kennedy, Associated Press

Missy, Willie and George Michael among Rock Hall nominees

Missy Elliott, Willie Nelson, Kate Bush, Iron Maiden, Cyndi Lauper, Soundgarden, Sheryl Crow and the late George Michael are nominees for 2023 induction into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame, a list that includes a mix of country, soul, hip-hop, metal, pop, rap-rock and grunge.
12 hours ago
Mourners sit next to a candle display during a vigil for Tyre Nichols at Regency Community Skatepar...
Aaron Morrison and Travis Loller, Associated Press

‘We’re all Tyre’: Family prepares to lay Nichols to rest

The family of Tyre Nichols plans to lay him to rest Wednesday, three weeks after he died following a brutal beating by Memphis police that was captured on disturbing video that prompted nationwide protests and renewed calls for police reform.
12 hours ago
Tom Brady #12 of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers celebrates after defeating the Kansas City Chiefs in Supe...
Associated Press

Tom Brady retires, insisting this time it’s for good

Tom Brady has announced his retirement. Brady won a record seven Super Bowls for New England and Tampa.
12 hours ago
FILE PHOTO (Deseret News)...
Rio Yamat, Associated Press

‘Dances With Wolves’ actor arrested in Nevada sex abuse case

Las Vegas police have arrested former actor Nathan Chasing Horse at his home after uncovering what they describe as two decades of sexual assault and human trafficking allegations.
2 days ago

Sponsored Articles

Fiber Optical cables connected to an optic ports and Network cables connected to ethernet ports...
Brian Huston, CE and Anthony Perkins, BICSI

Why Every Business Needs a Structured Cabling System

A structured cabling system benefits businesses by giving you faster processing speeds and making your network more efficient and reliable.
notebook with password notes highlighted...
PC Laptops

How to Create Strong Passwords You Can Actually Remember

Learn how you can create strong passwords that are actually easy to remember! In a short time you can create new ones in seconds.
house with for rent sign posted...
Chase Harrington, president and COO of Entrata

Top 5 Reasons You May Want to Consider Apartment Life Over Owning a Home

There are many benefits of renting that can be overshadowed by the allure of buying a home. Here are five reasons why renting might be right for you.
Festive kitchen in Christmas decorations. Christmas dining room....
Lighting Design

6 Holiday Decor Trends to Try in 2022

We've rounded out the top 6 holiday decor trends for 2022 so you can be ahead of the game before you start shopping. 
Happy diverse college or university students are having fun on their graduation day...
BYU MBA at the Marriott School of Business

How to Choose What MBA Program is Right for You: Take this Quiz Before You Apply!

Wondering what MBA program is right for you? Take this quiz before you apply to see if it will help you meet your goals.
Diverse Group of Energetic Professionals Team Meeting in Modern Office: Brainstorming IT Programmer...
Les Olson

Don’t Let a Ransomware Attack Get You Down | Protect Your Workplace Today with Cyber Insurance

Business owners and operators should be on guard to protect their workplace. Cyber insurance can protect you from online attacks.
What Indigenous Peoples’ Day means to Native Americans