Reclaiming The Day: What You Should Know About Indigenous Peoples' Day

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Since 1937, the second Monday of October has been considered a national holiday to recognize Christopher Columbus –– the Italian explorer long credited with "discovering" what is known as North America.

The focus of that celebration has changed in recent years, however, as the impact of that "discovery" and the imprint of Indigenous peoples are remembered and honored.

This year marks the first time a US president has recognized Indigenous Peoples' Day. On Friday (October 8) President Joe Biden issued a proclamation to officially honor Native Americans, their irrefutable contributions to the country in the face of genocide, forced assimilation and generations-long discrimination.

"I still don't think I've fully absorbed what that has meant," Dylan Baca a 19-year-old Arizona resident who helped orchestrate the president's proclamation, told NPR. "This is a profound thing the president has done, and it's going to mean a lot to so many people."

In 2017, Baca founded an organization with Arizona State Senator Jamescita Peshlaki, the Indigenous Peoples' Initiative with the mission to reclaim the narrative around Columbus Day by sharing the positive and more accurate history of Native Americans on this day.

What is Indigenous Peoples' Day?

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Indigenous Peoples' Day fends off a "whitewashing" of American history that praises European explorers like Columbus with "discovering" places and people who were already here and inflicting brutal violence upon them.

Centering explorers like Columbus while leaving out the truth of their violence overlooks the people whose land was stolen to create this nation in the first place.

The day honors and recognizes, while providing the opportunity to remember a more accurate history and was first proposed in 1977 by Indigenous peoples at a UN conference. South Dakota was the first state to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day in 1989 and officially celebrated it the next year.

How to Celebrate?

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There isn't necessarily one way to celebrate or appreciate the day, Mandy Van Heuvelen, cultural interpreter coordinator at the Smithsonian's National Museum of the American Indian, told NPR.

"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.

Biden's proclamation, the work of Indigenous organizers, and more, Van Heuvelen says, raises awareness around the vast contributions and history Native Americans have in the US.

"What these changes accomplish, piece by piece, is visibility for Native people in the United States," she said.

"Until Native people are fully seen in our society and in everyday life, we can't accomplish those bigger changes. As long as Native people remain invisible, it's much more easier to look past those real issues and those real concerns within those communities," she added.

Some are using the day this year to uplift the stories of the hundreds of missing and murdered Native women around the country.

Photo: Getty Images

For more information on Indigenous Peoples' Day, please click here.

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