Indigenous Peoples’ Day Movement Gains Momentum

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Many communities across the country are moving toward celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of, or alongside, Columbus Day, held the second Monday of October. This growing movement aims to honor those who were native to and lived in the Americas long before Christopher Columbus “discovered” the continent, as well as promote awareness of their mistreatment by the Italian explorer.

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day represents a shift in consciousness. It acknowledges that indigenous peoples and their voices are important in today’s conversations,” Leo Killsback, Arizona State University assistant professor of American Indian Studies and a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation, told CNN.

Phoenix, Denver, and Spokane, Wash., are among the most recent communities to embrace the new holiday, following the example of many large cities that now recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, such as Portland, Ore., Minneapolis, and Seattle. In addition, Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed a proclamation last week stating that Vermont now celebrates the new holiday rather than the increasingly criticized Columbus Day.

The movement has also trickled down into smaller communities. San Juan College (SJC) in Farmington, N.M., recently approved a resolution to implement the first campus-wide recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2016, according to Farmington Daily Times. The action came in response to an October 2015 proposal from a group of students that learned about Columbus’ treatment of indigenous peoples, including the genocide of those he encountered, in a Native Studies class. The 2016 celebration of the holiday at SJC included presentations and group discussions regarding the reasons for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, as well as indigenous food and dance.

Recent efforts to replace Columbus Day are part of a broader movement that began in 1977 when a delegation of Native nations proposed the idea of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day at a U.N. conference, where the resolution was passed. It wasn’t until many years later, however, that communities in the U.S. began adopting the holiday.

While more than 25 communities across the country have since adopted the holiday, the movement has met some opposition. Last week, five of nine members of the Cincinnati City Council abstained from voting on a proclamation that would have recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day, according to the Cincinnati Enquirer.