Why Indigenous Peoples' Day Should be a Nationally Recognized Holiday & How You Can Celebrate It

Austin, Texas has recently joined the group of cities that decided to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, according to TIME and it’s pretty clear why. More cities are celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day and rejecting the famed controversial holiday — it's because Christopher Columbus committed genocide and enslaved millions of indigenous people when he came to America.

You might know Columbus Day as being the day that Columbus “discovered” America. However, as many activists and historians are quick to point out, America wasn’t his to discover.

While most Americans are taught that Columbus discovered America, he really didn’t. Seeing as it was already discovered by the Native American people who had already inhabited this country. That’s like Donald Trump thinking that he invented the word “fake,” but in reality others had been using it well before him.

While there are plenty of people who, unfortunately, want to keep Columbus Day around, celebrating an individual who committed genocide, rape and other heinous crimes against countless Native Americans is highly offensive to Native American communities. That’s like having a judge establish a day to celebrate a rapist or murderer (which should go without saying why that’s f*cked up and incredibility insulting).

Taking a day to celebrate Columbus isn’t just offensive to Native American communities—it’s harmful. To put it simple, it demeans everything that they lost just so white people could thrive.

Native American communities have endured atrocities since the conception of the United States, and it’s time for a change. Instead of looking at today as a day off work, take some time to actively celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. After all, there are plenty of ways you can celebrate indigenous people today (and beyond) without being insensitive to Native American cultures.

1. Appreciate (But Never Appropriate) Native American Languages and Culture. 

Even if you aren’t a skilled linguist, learning a new language can help you appreciate a new culture. While you won’t find any Native American languages in Rosetta Stone (unfortunately), there are several apps and websites that will help you learn about certain Native American languages and their respective cultures.
 

Learning a Native American language can help preserve the language. Some websites even allow you to exchange information with a pen pal.

Otherwise, you can visit a museum owned by Indigenous people or read some books by Indigenous authors in order to better educate yourself about their cultures and support Indigenous businesses.

Taking the steps to unlearn damaging myths (like the ones about Columbus) and to learn about Indigenous cultures can give you the tools to better support the people who are a part of those cultures.

2. Start a dialogue with an activist

Reaching out to an indigenous people and activists involved with those causes will help you learn how you can get involved in local movements (and how to do it respectfully when you aren't a part of a certain culture). Many activists are eager to answer any questions to those who are willing to fight for human rights within Native American communities.

Listen to local and national activists and how you can help remove offensive symbols and mascots that appropriate Native American cultures. Better yet, tweet about why #IndigenousPeopleDay matters and retweet indigenous people who are already sharing their stories.

Talking to people who are actively involved in the Native American communities will not only help you educate yourself about the past and current issues that these communities face, but it will help you learn how to be better allies to them. 

3. Donate to an indigenous organization or education fund

You can help celebrate Native American communities by donating to organizations like the Native American Heritage Association or several other organizations and education funds. After all, donating to Native American communities helps these communities grow their resources, so they can continue their fight for representation.

Although the United Nations announced in 1994 that August 9 will serve as the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, we should devote even more time to celebrate indigenous people in the United States as well. It’s beyond frustrating that not enough United States cities recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday. USA Today explains that in 1992 activists convinced the Berkeley City Council to make October 12 “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.” While this was a positive movement to celebrate Native American culture and defame Columbus as a monster, it isn’t enough.

It isn’t enough that a few cities in the U.S. celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, instead there's a solid movement calling for “Columbus Day" to be removed from the calendar and for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to be a nationally recognized holiday. Regardless of where you stand on this issue, the discourse around Indigenous Peoples' Day and Columbus Day should at least inspire you to think critically about the holidays we celebrate "just because they've always been there" and to consider the effects they might have on marginalized people whose histories are frequently ignored.