What Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates the history and contributions of Native Americans and has been federally recognized since 2021.
For the third year in a row, the United States will officially observe Indigenous Peoples Day alongside Columbus Day. Indigenous Peoples' Day celebrates the history and contributions of Native Americans. In 2023, the holiday falls on Monday, October 9.
While the Joe Biden administration has officially recognized Indigenous Peoples' Day since 2021, it is not yet a federal holiday. More than a dozen states recognize some version of the holiday in place of Columbus Day. Some states and cities, however, still celebrate Columbus Day or Italian Heritage Day.
There has been some effort to formally designate Indigenous Peoples’ Day a federal holiday. The Indigenous Peoples' Day Act, reintroduced in Congress on October 2, 2023, would designate the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day nationwide.
“Our country has long failed to recognize and acknowledge its dark history of erasure and harm brought upon the first inhabitants of the Americas,” said California Congresswoman Norma Torres in a statement. “By designating Indigenous Peoples’ Day a federal holiday, we take a small but important step toward recognizing the injustices in our nation’s history and uplifting the vibrant traditions, history, and culture of all Indigenous communities—an integral part of the cultural fabric of the United States.”
The bill currently has 56 cosponsors in the House of Representatives and 11 cosponsors in the Senate.
Where Is Indigenous Peoples' Day Celebrated?
As of 2023, some 29 states do not celebrate Columbus Day and have renamed it or replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Some states recognize Indigenous Peoples Day via proclamation, while others treat it as an official holiday.
Among the states where the holiday is observed or honored are Alaska, Minnesota, Vermont, Iowa, North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Virginia, Oregon, Texas, as well as South Dakota, which celebrates Native Americans’ Day, Hawaii, which celebrates Discoverers' Day, and Alabama, which celebrates American Indian Heritage Day. Washington, D.C. also recognizes the holiday.
President Biden became the first U.S. president to issue a proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2021, writing, "Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society."
Why Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Activists have long argued that holidays, statues and other memorials to Columbus sanitize his actions—which include the enslavement of Native Americans—while giving him credit for “discovering” a place where communities had lived for thousands of years.
“Columbus Day is not just a holiday, it represents the violent history of colonization in the Western hemisphere,” says Leo Killsback, a professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University.
Columbus Day became a federal holiday in 1937, in part because of efforts by Roman Catholic Italian Americans. During the late 19th and early 20th century, members of the stigmatized ethnic and religious group successfully campaigned to establish a Columbus Day in order to place Catholic Italians, like Christopher Columbus, into American history. In doing so, they edged out people of Anglo-Saxon descent who wanted a federal holiday honoring Leif Erikson as the first European to reach the Americas.
But decades later, the question of which European got here “first” is beside the point. “Indigenous Peoples' Day represents a much more honest and fair representation of American values,” writes Killsback, who is a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation of southeastern Montana.
Focus on Native American History
Indigenous Peoples’ Day also offers a fresh focus to history in schools, where many history textbooks leave out Native Americans or sanitize white colonizer’s treatment of them. In a 2015 op-ed, Shannon Speed, director of the American Indian Studies Center at the University of California, Los Angeles, and a Chickasaw tribal citizen, wrote 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.”
When the city of Austin adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day in October 2017, the resolution stated that the city wanted to encourage schools to teach this history.
In her column, Speed wrote of her students’ common belief in the “vanishing Indian,” meaning that her students often think of Native Americans as people who lived in the past rather than living people who continue to practice their cultures today.
Columbus’s famed voyage to the New World was celebrated by Italian-Americans, in particular, as a pathway to their own acceptance in America.
Long before Christopher Columbus stepped foot on what would come to be known as the Americas, the expansive territory was inhabited by Native Americans. Throughout the 16th and 17th centuries, as more explorers sought to colonize their land, Native Americans responded in various stages, from cooperation to indignation to revolt. After siding with the French […]
BY: BECKY LITTLE