Today in history: October 12 is Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated in various localities in the United States, begun as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day. The purpose of the day is to promote Native American culture and commemorate the history of Native American peoples. The celebration began in Berkeley, Calif., through the International Indian Treaty Council, and Denver, Colo., as a protest against Columbus Day, which is listed as a U.S. federal holiday, but is not observed as a state holiday in every state.Indigenous Peoples’ Day is usually held on the second Monday of October, coinciding with the federal observance of Columbus Day.

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with a day celebrating the indigenous people of North America first arose in 1977 from the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.At the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in July 1990, representatives of Indian groups throughout the Americas agreed that they would mark 1992, the 500th anniversary of the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus, as a day to promote continental unity and liberation.

After the conference, attendees from Northern California organized to plan protests against the “Quincentennial Jubilee” that had been organized by the U.S. Congress for the San Francisco Bay Area on Columbus Day 1992, to include, among other things, sailing replicas of Columbus’ ships under the Golden Gate Bridge and reenacting their “discovery” of America. The delegates formed the Bay Area Indian Alliance andthe “Resistance 500” task force, which advocated the notion that Columbus was responsible for genocide of Indian people.

In 1992, the group convinced the Berkeley city council to declare October 12 a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People” and 1992 the “Year of Indigenous People,” and to implement related programs in schools, libraries, and museums. The city symbolically renamed Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” beginning in 1992 to protest the historical conquest of North America by Europeans, and to call attention to the demise of Native American people and culture through disease, warfare, massacre, and forced assimilation. Performances were scheduled that day for “Get Lost (Again) Columbus,” an opera by a Native-American composer. Berkeley has celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day ever since.Beginning in 1993, Berkeley has held an annual pow-wow and festival on the day.

In the years after Berkeley’s move, other local governments and institutions have either renamed or canceled Columbus Day – either to celebrate Native Americans, to avoid celebrating actions of Columbus that led to the European colonization of America, or due to controversy over the legacy of Columbus.

At least four states do not celebrate Columbus Day (Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota). South Dakota officially celebrates Native American Day instead. Various tribal governments in Oklahoma designate the day “Native American Day” or name the day after their own tribe. Hawaii celebrates Discoverer’s Day, commemorating the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii.

San Francisco and a number of other American cities have either canceled their observances or renamed them “Italian Heritage Day” in honor of Italian Americans,for whom Columbus, believed by many historians to be a native of Italy, was a source of pride. Columbus, Ohio, has not sponsored an official Columbus Day parade since the 1990s, in part over controversy over the legacy of Columbus. Other cities and states have canceled celebrations due to lack of interest in the holiday or budget cuts.

Cities including Minneapolis, St. Paul, Seattle, Grand Rapids and Traverse City, Mich., have passed resolutions recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

In Mexico October 12 is known as the “Día de la raza,” the day celebrating the new amalgamated “cosmic race” that emerged in the Americas after 1492. Some other countries have designated different dates to celebrate their national indigenous peoples.

Powerful echoes of the movement for Native rights have resounded in recent weeks over the papal decision to make Father Junípero Serra, founder of the California missions system, a saint.

Adapted from Wikipedia and other sources.

Photo: Navajo portraits.  |  Wikipedia (CC)


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Special to People’s World

People’s World is a voice for progressive change and socialism in the United States. It provides news and analysis of, by, and for the labor and democratic movements to our readers across the country and around the world. People’s World traces its lineage to the Daily Worker newspaper, founded by communists, socialists, union members, and other activists in Chicago in 1924.