Rethinking How We Celebrate American History is a movement that has led to positive changes in how our country recognizes and celebrates Indigenous peoples. Many American states and municipalities now observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This unofficial holiday recognizes Native people as the first inhabitants of the Western Hemisphere. In addition, it raises awareness of the contributions of Indigenous Peoples and their cultural traditions to the United States.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated the second Monday in October. It is not a federal holiday, but it has been recognized by several states and municipalities, including South Dakota, Michigan, Maine, New Mexico, and Wisconsin. There are many ways to celebrate this holiday. Aside from observing the day as a general holiday, you may choose to teach about Columbus or about the history of the indigenous peoples of the Western Hemisphere. You can do so through the resources provided by the Zinn Education Project.
Since the colonization of North America, the effects of European contact have been devastating to the lives of Native Americans. Over the course of hundreds of years, explorers and settlers have encroached on Indigenous lands and communities, stealing their resources and forcing them to relocate. Some of these efforts were even violent.
The United Nations has sponsored numerous conferences and symposiums to address the discrimination and oppression experienced by the indigenous populations of the Western Hemisphere. One such conference, held in 1977, proposed the creation of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day to replace Columbus Day.
President Biden’s proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2012 encouraged more states to recognize the holiday. It also boosted efforts to shift the focus away from the Spanish Crown’s arrival in the Americas and toward the impact of colonialism on native cultures.
Columbus Day continues to perpetuate the marginalization of Indigenous peoples in the U.S. While many historical events did not happen exactly as we think they did, a vast majority of the population knows the myths of our country’s history.
There is a growing number of educators who are educating students about how we should rethink how we celebrate our history. To help, the Zinn Education Project offers a packet of materials to use when teaching about the history of the United States. These materials include a two-minute video on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Additionally, you can use the resources from American Indians in Children’s Literature to introduce the topic. If you are interested in finding out more about the history of the indigenous peoples of North America, visit the An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz.
Another way to rethink how we celebrate our history is to teach more accurate narratives. By using qualitative data, you can see how our current Euro-American narrative reinstitutes the marginalization of Indigenous cultures.
There are more opportunities than ever for teachers to teach about the history of the Indigenous Peoples of the United States. With more and more cities, states, and municipalities recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it is important to educate children about the diversity of our nation and its people.