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Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day

October 10th is a day of remembrance referred to by two different names that are fundamentally paradoxical in nature- the widely recognized national holiday that is Columbus Day and the growing movement to reclaim it as Indigenous Peoples Day.

Celebrating the second Monday in October as a day when America was “discovered” by Columbus clearly shows historical disregard to the lives and contributions of the millions of Native people who had been living in the Americas for thousands of years. In addition, the celebration of men who raped, murdered and enslaved countless indigenous people is seen by many as glorifying imperialism and genocide.

In this light, a number of states and cities have moved to re-brand the day of tribute. South Dakota has been celebrating Columbus Day as Native American Day since 1990. Hawaii has always referred to the day as Discovers’ Day in honor of the people who came to the islands from Polynesia. Dozens of of states and cities have followed; in the last year, 14 communities have re-designated the day in honor of the indigenous people, including Phoenix, Denver and Santa Fe.

But the movement toward recognizing the history of Native people is not without controversy. City leaders in Oklahoma City and Cincinnati both recently rejected proposals to change the second Monday in October to Indigenous Peoples Day. When Seattle changed the holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, there was backlash from leaders in the Italian-American community; the Italian ambassador to the United States even wrote a letter to the mayor condemning the change.

Progressive advocates point out that the purpose of the movement is not to disregard Columbus, but rather to recognize the historical context in which he lived, and the impact it’s had on present day Native people.

To this day, Native Americans continue to advocate for sovereignty over their own land. Recently making headlines was the protest over the Dakota Access oil pipeline, which was approved without the consent of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, and would have passed through the Tribe’s treaty lands, sacred sights and burial grounds, with a potential spill risking contamination of the Tribe’s water supply. The Obama administration announced last month that they would temporarily block construction on one specific area, granting a momentary victory to Native American “water protectors.”