top of page

indigenous peoples' day and why it matters.

now federally recognized. now what?

alcatraz island image, tan building with sign that says indians welcome, indian land
alcatraz occupation, 1969, photo taken by adrian michael green

president joe biden may have made a proclamation for indigenous peoples' day to be observed, however, 87% of state history standards do not mention native american history after 1900 and 27 states make no mention of native american history in their k-12 curriculum.

what is in the curriculum which is taught to young people is the incomplete history of italian explorer christopher colombus. for some, he is viewed as a national hero and his namesake holiday (unofficially celebrated as early as 1792 and officially since 1934) a symbol of the american ideals of innovation and entrepreneurship. to others, like the indigenous people who inhabited the americas before colombus (who never stepped foot in north america), he represents colonization and violence.

how indigenous peoples day came to be (a brief history).

inspired by the civil rights movement, native american youth formed the red power movement in 1964 which led to protests like the 18-month occupation of alcatraz island demanding that the american government live up to its promises. in 1977 at a united nations convention 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."

in 1990 south dakota was the first state to re-name columbus day as native american day and the city of berkeley in california celebrated indigenous peoples day as a counter protest in 1992 making it the first city to recognize the holiday.

to date, at least fifteen states – alabama, alaska, california, hawaii, idaho, maine, michigan, minnesota, new mexico, north carolina, oklahoma, oregon, south dakota, vermont and wisconsin – plus the district of columbia and more than 130 cities observe indigenous peoples day instead of or in addition to columbus day.

what about italian-american heritage?

it is one thing to honor and celebrate italian-american heritage which is important and should be done, it's another to have the face/leader of that be someone who committed atrocities that destroyed an entire population of people. changing columbus day to indigenous peoples' day is not an attempt to erase italian-american heritage - it is to write back in what was erased and skipped over in schools and other institutions.

four ways to appreciate indigenous peoples day.

according to mandy van heuvelen, a member of the cheyenne river sioux tribe and the cultural interpreter coordinator at the smithsonian's national museum of the american indian, there are no set rules on how to navigate indigenous peoples day but there are at least four things to consider to appreciate the day: reflection, recognition, celebration, and education.

the following are my suggestions based on van heuvelen's four ways to appreciate the day.

reflect. use this interactive map to see whose land you live on that will help guide you when you offer land acknowledgments. give monetary support to local or national programs and organizations. think about your own understandings of native american history past and present.

recognize. include culturally appropriate lessons and activities in your curriculum. embed these 10 essential understandings of native american impact. contact your local government if you are in a city or state that does not observe indigenous peoples' day.

celebrate. plan ahead to native american heritage month which is in november. attend in-person or virtual events. get involved in the anti-mascot movement. plant native plants that are indigenous to your area.

education. look up the history of boarding schools and the education of native americans according to captain richard henry pratt. include any of these book recommendations to your library of indigenous authors.


if you liked this piece please consider contributing a monthly donation for more.


Featured Posts
Recent Posts
Search By Tags
Follow Us
bottom of page