Not that it makes up for centuries of colonization and genocide, but more and U.S. cities are choosing each year to officially make the second Monday of October a celebration of the indigenous people of their region, and not of the deplorable individual credited with “discovering” them.
In an executive proclamation, Gov. Bill Walker wrote that “Alaska is built upon the homelands and communities of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the state would not be possible.” He pointed out that 16% of Alaskans have indigenous heritage, and that “the State opposes systematic racism toward Indigenous Peoples of Alaska or any Alaskans of any origin and promotes policies and practices that reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, ensure greater access and opportunity, and honor our nation’s indigenous roots, history.”
The campaigns [led by Native American activists in dozens of cities] say the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus — and the parades and pageantry accompanying it — overlook a painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs that followed the Italian explorer’s 1492 arrival in the Americas. The indigenous holiday takes into account the history and contributions of Native Americans for a more accurate historical record, activists have argued.
“For the Native community here, Indigenous Peoples Day means a lot. We actually have something,” said Nick Estes of Albuquerque, who is coordinating a celebration Monday after the City Council recently issued a proclamation. “We understand it’s just a proclamation, but at the same time, we also understand this is the beginning of something greater.”
“Reclaiming the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day makes a powerful statement,” Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury said in a statement. “It says, ‘We are no longer going to celebrate a time of genocide, but instead we will honor the land we live on and the people who have been here since the beginning.”‘
“This (resolution) not only represents that we have been here for 10,000 years or longer … more importantly it recognizes that we are still here and that we are alive,” Arlene Kashata, a Traverse City resident and member of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, told the Traverse City Record-Eagle when the her town voted to recognize Indigenous People’s Day. “That we are a culture that is giving and contributing to this community.”
Denver joins at least nine cities in refocusing Columbus Day — a federal holiday declared in 1937 to mark Christopher Columbus’s 1492 voyage to the Western Hemisphere — to celebrate indigenous natives who lived on the North American continent long before European explorers set foot. Critics argue that devoting a day to Columbus is not only misleading but celebrates a violent history of colonialism, enslavement, and discrimination.
Denver’s proclamation noted that 48 Native American tribes call Colorado home, with the Denver metro area alone boasting descendants of about 100 groups.
Before this year, Columbus Day had already been replaced by more appropriate celebrations in Seattle, Washington; Minneapolis, Minnesota; Berkeley, California; and the entire states of South Dakota and Hawaii.