Indigenous Peoples Day

The rise of Indigenous Peoples Day

Rights, Politics

The concept of replacing the United States federal holiday of Columbus Day with a holiday known as “Indigenous Peoples Day” was first discussed in 1977 at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. However, it wasn’t until more than a decade later that the holiday was inaugurated.

Berkeley, California, was the first community to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The Berkeley city council adopted Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992 after being inspired by a conference of Northern Californian Native American groups. The city recognized the holiday for the first time in place of the Columbus Quincentennial, or the 500th anniversary of his arrival in the Americas. Since then, numerous other cities and even some states have adopted Indigenous Peoples Day.

Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day

The states of Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, and South Dakota all celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, although South Dakota refers to the day as Native American Day. The Village of Lewiston, New York, and Brunswick, Maine celebrate both Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day.

Cities celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day include:

  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Alpena, Michigan
  • Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Anadarko, Oklahoma
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Austin, Texas
  • Bainbridge Island, Washington
  • Bangor, Maine
  • Belfast, Maine
  • Bexar County, Texas
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Burbank, California
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Carrboro, North Carolina
  • Davenport, Iowa
  • Denver, Colorado
  • Durango, Colorado
  • Durham, New Hampshire
  • East Lansing, Michigan
  • Eugene, Oregon
  • Grand Rapids, Minnesota
  • Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
  • Ithaca, New York
  • Lawrence, Kansas
  • Long Beach, California
  • Los Angeles, California
  • Los Angeles County, California
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • Minneapolis, Minnesota
  • Moscow, Idaho
  • Nashville, Tennessee
  • Newstead, New York
  • Norman, Oklahoma
  • Northampton, Massachusetts
  • Oberlin, Ohio
  • Olympia, Washington
  • Orono, Maine
  • Phoenix, Arizona
  • Portland, Maine
  • Portland, Oregon
  • Salt Lake City, Utah
  • Santa Cruz, California
  • San Fernando, California
  • San Luis Obispo, California
  • Santa Fe, New Mexico
  • Seattle, Washington
  • Spokane, Washington
  • St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Tahlequah, Oklahoma
  • Traverse City, Michigan
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Watsonville, California
  • Ypsilanti, Michigan

The number of cities celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day continues to grow, and these changes carry significant meaning to Native Americans.

The Seattle Times reported in 2014 that Native American activists “laughed, wept, and sang their way out of Seattle’s City Hall” after City Council members unanimously voted to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day. “This is about taking a stand against racism and discrimination,” council member Kshama Sawant said at the time.

According to the Washington Post, only 23 states and the District of Columbia (plus Puerto Rico and American Samoa) currently recognize Columbus Day as a paid holiday. While there remains some resistance to the idea of renaming Columbus Day, a 2014 Rasmussen poll found that only 8 percent of respondents identified Columbus Day as one of the nation’s most important holidays.

The controversial history of Columbus Day

President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed October 12 to be the federal holiday of Columbus Day in 1934, and since 1971 the holiday has been celebrated on the second Monday in October.

As the History Channel noted, activists have long taken issue with the idea of celebrating Christopher Columbus because of some of his troubling actions, including the enslavement and genocide of Native Americans. Others disagree with the idea of crediting Columbus with “discovering” a location in which people already lived.

“Columbus Day is not just a holiday, it represents the violent history of colonization in the Western hemisphere,” Leo Killsback, a professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University, told the History Channel.

Discussions about Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day have also led to greater focus on what children are being taught in schools, as many people claim to have learned little about the people who populated the Americas before Columbus’ arrival.

Shannon Speed, the director of the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Chickasaw tribal citizen, wrote in a 2014 Huffington Post article that “virtually none of my university students has had any education whatsoever in the history of this country’s treatment of the 10 million or so people who lived here before Europeans arrived.”

Speed’s article also wrote about the idea of the “vanishing Indian,” which describes students thinking of Native Americans as being members of the past rather than a group still living today.

Indigenous Peoples Day helps promote a greater understanding of the nation’s history.