Indigenous Peoples Day

Today, the second Monday in October, marks the American federal holiday that traditionally honored the legacy of Christopher Columbus – the man credited with “discovering” the New World. 

For those acknowledging the brutallity inflicted by Columbus on the Native Americans, this day transforms into Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It becomes a tribute to the resilience and cultural endurance of Native peoples suppressed during the “Age of Discovery” and the colonization of the Americas by Europe. Yet, what significance does this day hold for the ancestral homelands where Native nations lack self-governance or for lands allocated to them, constantly under threat from incursion, fossil-fuel extraction, and climate catastrophe? It unravels the deep-seated histories of settlement, privatization, development, exploitation, and alienation of both land and its people. Before the 1870s, federal policy employed violent tactics, broken treaties, and the reservation system to colonize Native lands. When tribal nations resisted, the latter half of the 19th century saw policies of forced assimilation, breaking up tribal reservation land. Fragmenting tribal lands facilitated the removal of tribes from their homelands. Subsequently, the government wrongfully seized 90 million acres of reservation land guaranteed by treaty. To the land, the holiday seems deceptive. Indigenous Peoples’ Day holds true significance only if it signifies a return of land under Native political authority. 

If we genuinely seek to honor Indigenous people, renaming the holiday is merely a small initial step. The subsequent step is repair: Material restitution, particularly through land redistribution, must be integral to the process. Reestablishing Indigenous sovereignty over the territories they’ve safeguarded since time immemorial is a genuine cause for celebration.

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