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Tuesday, October 19, 2021

‘This is a profound thing’: Indigenous Peoples’ Day gets presidential recognition for the first time

Biden went on to acknowledge: “For generations, Federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” and “recommit to supporting a new, brighter future of promise and equity for Tribal Nations—a future grounded in Tribal sovereignty and respect for the human rights of Indigenous people in the Americas and around the world.”

I still don’t think I’ve fully absorbed what that has meant,” Dylan Baca, a member of the White Mountain Apache tribe and Navajo, told NPR. “This is a profound thing the president has done, and it’s going to mean a lot to so many people.” At 19, Baca has been already spent years as an activist pushing for recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Monday is, of course, also Columbus Day, a federal holiday recognizing a genocidal slaver. An increasing number of states and cities are recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, however, including Arizona, Oregon, Texas, Louisiana, and Washington, D.C.

What does it mean to change the name of a holiday? “What these changes accomplish, piece by piece, is visibility for Native people in the United States,” according to Mandy Van Heuvelen, the cultural interpreter coordinator at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian and a member of the Cheyenne River Sioux Tribe. “Until Native people are or 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 for people to look past those real issues and those real concerns within those communities.”

Some people are still objecting, arguing that Columbus had achievements for which he continues to deserve recognition, and also that it’s, like, cancel culture to stop giving someone a holiday just because he killed and tortured and enslaved a very large number of people. Southpaw offered a powerful rejoinder to one such argument:


In the words of Biden’s proclamation, “The Federal Government has a solemn obligation to lift up and invest in the future of Indigenous people and empower Tribal Nations to govern their own communities and make their own decisions. We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country. Today, we acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by Native peoples to this country—and recognize their many ongoing contributions to our Nation.”

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