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The Significance Behind Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Updated: Oct 15, 2021

Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first introduced 29 years ago, as a way to rethink the teachings of Christopher Columbus’ story. The holiday was designed to replace Columbus Day in 1992, as a way to protest against the sufferings of the Native Americans brought by the European colonizers. Today, we celebrate this holiday on the second Monday of October each year as a way to honor the culture and history of the Native American people, and look back at the growth of the Native American community, which had tragic stories from long ago.

Up until Columbus arrived in 1492, Indigenous People were able to maintain life and stability for many years. Despite his cruel and violent behaviors, Christopher Columbus was still portrayed as a “hero” and celebrated for discovering the New World. As more evidence came to light about the way Columbus treated the Native Americans, celebrating Columbus Day further highlighted controversy over enslavement and violent rule. The “Age of Exploration” that Columbus helped lead also had the additional consequence of bringing new diseases to the New World that devastated the Native Americans populations. In 1977, the idea of recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day was brought in front of the United Nations’ Assembly.

Today, we are seeing the transition from celebrating Columbus Day to celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day. From South Dakota, the first state to recognize this switch in 1989, to now many other places around the world, including over 130 cities, people are now becoming educated on the history and purpose of this national holiday, which continues to spread awareness and honor the Native American communities. While only 10 U.S. States have officially recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a state holiday; 11 other states, including Virginia, have proclaimed that they will observe the holiday.

More recently, President Biden signed a proclamation on Oct. 8, 2021, to honor the impact Indigenous People have had on the world, marking the first time a United States president has commemorated the holiday. “Today, we also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities,” Biden said. “For Native Americans, western exploration ushered in a wave of devastation: violence perpetrated against Native communities, displacement and theft of Tribal homelands, the introduction and spread of disease, and more.”

While there are not set rules on how to celebrate this day, reflecting on its history, recognizing its impact, celebrating its ideals, and educating yourself on its significance, are all things you can do at home. To support the Indigenous Peoples’, it is important that we learn more about their lives and move past the idealisms that were created surrounding this holiday. As one Arizonian Native Leader said, “[the goal is] to tell a more positive and more accurate tale of Native Americans by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”


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