Over the last 26 years, the Indigenous People's Day movement has steadily been gaining momentum. Within the last month alone, 10 cities and the state of Vermont have chosen to recognize the 2nd Monday of October as Indigenous People's Day in place of or in conjunction with Columbus Day.
While many embrace the movement and believe that millions of people indigenous to this land before colonization should be acknowledged and celebrated, there are still some that cling to the revisionist history of Christopher Columbus as the "Father of Discovery." There are still those who believe that rape, slavery, and genocide can be justified and overlooked to celebrate Columbus. There are still those who reason that without European colonization, we would not be where we are today as the United States of America.
Herein lies the problem: Nothing has changed in the last 524 years. The extermination, expulsion, segregation, and assimilation of native people are still seen as necessary evils of progress, and those who championed these evils are glorified and celebrated. For the last 81 years, Columbus has been celebrated with a federally recognized national holiday. In the Black Hills, the faces of four anti-native presidents deface land sacred to the Lakota people. There are cities, counties, and a national park named for famed Indian Killer, Gen. George Custer. The list goes on because colonization and the continuing development of the United States is dependent on the eradication and erasure of Indigenous people and the brutal history of how this nation came to be.
As award-winning Lakota journalist, Brandon Ecoffey, wrote:
The struggle facing our people is that we are battling hundreds of years of colonial policy designed to eliminate us. We have endured the maximal effort of the most powerful nation the earth has ever known to extinguish us, yet, we exist.
This is why Indigenous People's Day is such a powerful movement for native people. It is crucial in combating the erasure of their existence and legacy on the very lands that they belong to. It is necessary in challenging and breaking the cycle of anti-indigeneity that is so prevalent in the American psyche. More importantly, it is necessary to stop glorifying colonialism and the idea that native people are expendable in the name of “American” progress.
From Massachusetts to Seattle, Complex spoke to native organizers on why Indigenous People's Day should be embraced along with the beauty and resiliency of their people and cultures:
Tara Houska (Couchiching First Nations)
National Campaigns Director for Honor the Earth, Red Warrior Camp, Standing Rock, North Dakota
“The fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline has become a beacon of indigenous resistance, resilience, and unity. The time of honoring a man who enacted genocide and unspeakable atrocities on indigenous peoples is over. Tomorrow, water protectors will join in prayer for the meeting of the eagle and condor here at Standing Rock. Indigenous Peoples Day is a celebration of our survival, of our diverse cultures, of the incredible power that flows through indigenous hearts and minds.”
Wakinyan Waanatan (Matt Remle) (Lakota)
Occupied Duwamish territory, Seattle, author of Seattle's Indigenous Peoples Day resolution
"Indigenous Peoples Day is both a recognition and celebration of Indigenous peoples from our cultures, histories, and way of life. It is also a firm rejection of Columbus, the Doctrine of Discovery and the ensuing settler colonialism that has plagued our homelands. Embracing Indigenous Peoples Day is a recognition of the beauty and strength of our ancestors while sending a message to our children, grandchildren and those yet born that they come from a beautiful, strong and resilient peoples."
Sarah Adams-Cornell (Choctaw)
LiveIndigenousOK, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
"Indigenous Peoples' Day is about correcting a serious grievance against indigenous people. While Columbus Day was founded to give Italian immigrants pride, they picked the wrong guy. We could get behind Italian American Day but that's not what it's called, it's Columbus Day. It's a holiday to celebrate a man who committed heinous acts against a people almost to extinction. Rape of girls, mutilation, murder and the feather in his cap could arguably be his role as the father of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.
While some don't see the connection to 'the bigger issues,' many do. Connect the dots to see that this contributes to the miseducation about our collective history on this land mass, the perpetuation of a harmful rhetoric of Manifest Destiny, Doctrine of Discovery and this idea that a thriving people couldn't self-determine but had to be discovered. All of this impacts our children and all of our people. It also impacts non-native people. It contributes to racism and division. And all of this contributes to the statistics that we see in our native community. Considering everyone living on North America is living on Indigenous land, Live Indigenous OK hopes to see this Indigenous Peoples' Day embraced and celebrated across Turtle Island and especially in Oklahoma City."
Kisha James and Womsikuk James (Aquinnah Wampanoag/Lakota)
Indigenous Peoples Day MA Youth Organizers
"We were able to get an Indigenous Peoples Day resolution passed in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and are now trying to do the same in Boston. Columbus Day needs to be abolished. No one should be celebrating genocide, theft of land, rape and enslavement. Indigenous Peoples Day is an important beginning for us. It changes the conversation so that Indigenous peoples are centered after having been erased for so long. We can talk about and celebrate our history and also our ongoing presence here, where we live today. We can celebrate our culture, our resilience, our very survival."