A Candid History of Indigenous Peoples Day and How to Recognize It

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April 16, 2024 at 11:3PM UTC

Indigenous Peoples Day — what is it and why do we celebrate it? Isn't it the same as Columbus Day?

Yes and no — but mostly no, because there's a lot of controversy behind Columbus day.

You might be wondering, is Columbus Day still a holiday? The fact is that many cities and states have gone ahead and changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. So, why was Columbus Day changed to Indigenous Peoples Day? 

In a 2014 piece, “Columbus Day, or ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day’?,” writer Jake Flanagin puts it plainly why so many Americans argue that Columbus Day should be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day:
It’s a controversial day with a turbulent history. 'This historically problematic holiday — Columbus never actually set foot on the continental U.S. — has made an increasing number of people wince, given the enslavement and genocide of Native American people that followed in the wake of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria,' writes Yvonne Zipp for The Christian Science Monitor. 'The neighborhood wasn’t exactly empty when he arrived in 1492.'
Back in 1992 — 500 years after Columbus’s fateful landing in the Caribbean — Berkeley, Calif., was the first American city to repurpose his day in honor of Native America. 'Talk of an alternative Columbus Day dates back to the 1970s,' writes Nolan Feeney for Time, 'but the idea came to Berkeley after the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in 1990. That led to another conference among Northern Californian Native American groups.' Attendees brought the idea in front of the Berkeley City Council, after which they 'appointed a task force to investigate the ideas and Columbus’ historical legacy.' Two years later, council members officially instated Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus by a unanimous vote.
The California state senator Lori Hancock, then the mayor of Berkeley, remembers encountering Italian-American pushback similar to that in Seattle. 'We just had to keep reiterating that that was not the purpose,' she told Mr. Feeney. 'The purpose was to really affirm the incredible legacy of the indigenous people who were in the North American continent long before Columbus.'

So, which states do not celebrate Columbus Day? In other words, what states recognize Indigenous Peoples Day?

Indigenous Peoples Day is observed in place of Columbus Day in Seattle, WA, Minneapolis, MN and Berkeley, CA (which started Indigenous Peoples Day back in 1992), as well as in parts of Alaska and now Maine. While Columbus Day is still recognized as a federal holiday, the holiday has been eschewed in cities all across the country, and it is only a paid holiday in some states.

Meanwhile, in Hawaii, the holiday is called Discoverers’ Day, and, in South Dakota, it’s called Native Americans’ Day. Then in other places like Sandusky, Ohio, the holiday has been swapped for Election Day to avoid controversy and actually make it easier for Ohio residents to vote.

What is Indigenous Peoples Day?

Indigenous Peoples Day is, in short, a day to recognize, show respect for and celebrate the contributions of the indigenous people of the United States of America — the Native Americans. It's a day to replace Columbus Day, because of his controversial settlement in the Americas that ultimately led to the demise of the culture of Native Americans, the true indigenous people.

What is the purpose of Indigenous Peoples Day?

The purpose of Indigenous Peoples Day is, again, to recognize, show respect for and celebrate the Native Americans, as well as to commemorate their history and culture. 

What is the history and origin of Indigenous Peoples Day?

Indigenous Peoples Day intends to replace Columbus Day.
"The first documented observance of Columbus Day in the United States took place in New York City in 1792, on the 300th anniversary of Columbus's landfall in the Western Hemisphere," according to Smithsonian Mag. "The holiday originated as an annual celebration of Italian-American heritage in San Francisco in 1869. In 1934, at the request of the Knights of Columbus and New York City’s Italian community, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt declared the first national observance of Columbus Day. President Roosevelt and the U.S. Congress made October 12 a national holiday in 1937. In 1972 President Richard Nixon signed a proclamation making the official date of the holiday the second Monday in October."

When is Indigenous Peoples Day?

Indigenous Peoples Day falls on Monday, October 14 this year, the second Monday in October, a pattern it follows. Mark your calendar for this year's Indigenous Peoples Day and the few two to come:
Upcoming dates:
DateDay of the Week
October 14, 2019Monday
October 12, 2020Monday
October 11, 2021Monday
October 10, 2022Monday
October 9, 2023Monday

What Are Some Activities to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day?

Here are three significant ways to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day this year.

1. Donate to indigenous people's rights organizations.

Consider donating funds to indigenous people's rights organizations to fight systematic discrimination against Native Americans in the United States of America. You can choose amongst a whole host of organizations, such as the Bears Ears Intertribal Coalition, which is an organization made up of five nations and supported by 30 Native American Tribes who are fighting to preserve the Bear Ears National Monument that's under threat. You can also donate to Stand With Standing Rock, a group of Native American activists from different tribes — and their allies – who stopped the Dakota Access Pipeline and are still actively battling it.

2. Attend activist events that Native American groups organize.

Show your respect for Native Americans and be a better ally by attending activist events in your area. This might mean attending a vigil, rally or march in support of Native American people.

3. Purchase Native American art and products.

Support indigenous communities by being a customer of their businesses. You can purchase Native American art, for example. Here is information on 11 Native American artists you should get to know if you don't know where to begin.

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