Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Shifting the Focus

indigenous person

Across the United States, the second Monday in October marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day. But, what exactly does this day remember and honour? In today’s blog, we’ll explore the history behind the celebration of native cultures. Plus, how you can show your appreciate. 

What is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a holiday that celebrates and honours Native American peoples. It also commemorates their histories and cultures. It began as a counter-celebration held on the same day as federal holiday Columbus Day. Instated to honour Italian explore Christopher Columbus, many reject this celebration stating that he represents” “the violent history of colonisation in the Western Hemisphere”. They view the day as a sanitisation of Columbus’ action against Native Americans. 

Making the Change

This change first came into action in 1990 at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. It was sponsored by the United Nations and held in Geneva, Switzerland. Here began the discussions about replacing Columbus Day in the US. 

In the same year, Native American groups stage protest in Boston instead of Thanksgiving. This is another federal holiday that glosses over the harm done to Native communities. 

After the conference, in 1992, a group of attendees organised to protest the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus. The jubilee organisers wanted to include replicas of Columbus’s ships. They would reenact the “discovery” of America. But, Columbus did not in fact discover America. Not only did he think it was India (where the outdated term “Indians” comes from), but also how can he discover a country that already had inhabitants? What’s more, this reenactment promoted the idea of European colonisation which resulted in the genocide of indigenous peoples. 

Thus, the group convinced the city council of Berkeley to declare the day instead as a “Day of Solidarity”. Instead of promoting colonialism, the city implemented indigenous learning programme in schools, libraries, and museums. Since then, the day has been celebrated every year. 

The Present Day

In the years following, other local governments made the change along with Berkeley. Some states still haven’t made the transition. Meanwhile, others instead celebrating “Native American Day” or have renamed the day after their own tribes. In 2019, D.C. Council voted to temporally replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, but the bill must undergo congressional approval to become permanent. 

How to Celebrate

Want to celebrate the strength of Indigenous People? Here’s how! 

  1. Learn Whose Land You’re On. Sign petition to have the public lands returned to their original stewards. What’s more, take the steps to shift the language you use. 
  2. Donate to Indigenous-led organisations. The fight for the rights of Native people and their communities is not over. Share the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous People affirming the equality, impact, and influence native communities have and deserve. 
  3. Listen to Native Stories. Explore their vibrant histories and understand the atrocities made against them. Re-educate yourself on the history of this country. 
  4. Teach Others About Columbus Day. Take action to make the cultural change. 

About the Author

Lydia B.

Lydia B.

Lydia B. is a Marketing Coordinator and Music Club Coach for Gooroo Clubs. Don't let after-school be an afterthought - join Gooroo's online platform centred around hands-on project-based learning!