Native Americans Explain the Significance of Indigenous Peoples' DayHistorians in the News
tags: Native American history, Columbus Day, public history, Indigenous Peoples Day
This year marks the first time a U.S. president has officially recognized Indigenous Peoples' Day.
President Biden issued a proclamation on Friday to observe this Oct. 11 as a day to honor Native Americans, their resilience and their contributions to American society throughout history, even as they faced assimilation, discrimination and genocide spanning generations. The move shifts focus from Columbus Day, the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus, which shares the same date as Indigenous Peoples' Day this year.
Dylan Baca, a 19-year-old Arizonan who was instrumental in helping broker the proclamation, is overwhelmed by the gravity of Biden's action.
"I still don't think I've fully absorbed what that has meant," he said. "This is a profound thing the president has done, and it's going to mean a lot to so many people."
Four years ago, the Native leader started an organization alongside Arizona state Sen. Jamescita Peshlakai, Indigenous Peoples' Initiative, with a similar mission: to tell a more positive and more accurate tale of Native Americans by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Indigenous Peoples' Day advocates say the recognition helps correct a "whitewashed" American history that has glorified Europeans like Italian explorer Christopher Columbus who have committed violence against Indigenous communities. Native Americans have long criticized the inaccuracies and harmful narratives of Columbus' legacy that credited him with his "discovery" of the Americas when Indigenous people were there first.
"It is difficult to grapple with the complete accomplishments of individuals and also the costs of what those accomplishments came at," said Mandy Van Heuvelen, the cultural interpreter coordinator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian.
There are no set rules on how one should appreciate the day, said Van Heuvelen, a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe from South Dakota. It's all about reflection, recognition, celebration and an education.
"It can be a day of reflection of our history in the United States, the role Native people have played in it, the impacts that history has had on native people and communities, and also a day to gain some understanding of the diversity of Indigenous peoples," she said.
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