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Indigenous Peoples' Day!

Updated: Nov 26, 2023

Indigenous Peoples' Day

Indigenous Peoples' Day

If you’re wondering if this day used to be Columbus Day, you would be correct. Today’s Federal Holiday is for two causes: the original, which is the celebration of Christopher Columbus and the “discovery” of the New World; and Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which celebrates the indigenous peoples who lived in the Americas long before European colonization. The push to celebrate indigenous peoples, rather than Christopher Columbus comes from a couple different points of reason. The first, is that to claim Columbus “discovered” the New World disenfranchises the peoples, civilizations, tribes, and nations that are from these lands and have lived on these lands for thousands of years. It was not undiscovered land, but rather, unknown to Europeans.

The second reason directly relates to the character and actions of Columbus himself when he arrived in the New World. He is seen by many indigenous peoples as the beginning of the genocide of the indigenous peoples in the Americas, so the day has been rebranded in order to give light to a more realistic approach to history, and to honor and respect the tribulations through which the indigenous peoples of the country have had to endure.

Who is Celebrated Today? How do I, as an Non-Indigenous American, Celebrate?

Today is a day to learn about the culture, legacy, and current treatment of the indigenous peoples of the Americas. In order to get to know more about the local tribes and nations that existed in your area, first look up your zip code here. Then, look into the specific peoples that are indigenous to your home. What is their name? Where are they now? What is their history? How can I support them now?

When most of us study American history, we tend to start by studying the British arrival to the colonies. The most crucial and impactful way that we can celebrate today is to look into the history before the British arrived. If you want to know more about the history, check out some of the books below!

  1. There, There by Tommy Orange

  2. Ancestor Approved: Intertribal Stories for Kids by Cynthia Leitich Smith

  3. A Day with Yayah by Nicola I. Campbell

Commonly Confused Terms:

The following summaries are provided by the Museum of the American Indian in the Smithsonian. You can access the link here, and also look at many other resources available to the public. The best way to celebrate is to educate!

Native American? American Indian? Indian? Which is correct?

  • While all are acceptable, each person varies on which they would like to use. The best way to find out, is to ask that person! If that is not an option, most people tend to lean towards using “Native American” as it is more correctly (since the term “Indian” was coined because Columbus thought he had landed in India and not in the Americas). However, the peoples of the Arctic see themselves as separate from the American indigenous, and tend to use “Inuit, Yup'ik, and Aleut.” While in Canada, the indigenous population, and the laws of Canada, refer to these peoples as “First People” or “First Nation.” While the indigenous in Mexico and South America, since the word “Indian” is a negative word, usually use “indígena” (Indigenous), “comunidad” (community), and “pueblo” (town). It is important to ask and use the terms and words that each person is comfortable with using!

Nation? Tribe?

  • Just as pluralistic as the last answer: it is best to simply ask! Since there is no one language that all indigenous peoples use, each group has a different word to identify their community. While tribe and nation are used interchangeably, the use of each varies in meaning for each group. And many groups have been pushed together based on European categorization, rather than the identities of the community.

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