Indigenous People’s Day: As Explained By and For White Folks

I live in the upper Midwest, and almost everyone I know is White. 


For where we live, this is a pretty normal occurrence for us White folks. Maybe you have a single Black co-worker who you chat with. Sometimes you might have an Asian family friend. If we’re getting really wild, you might even have a Latina girlfriend you get coffee with once in a while. But I want you to stop and think right now: how much do you really know about their lives?


Now this year, White people in the upper Midwest got about a month of education surrounding racial inequity and systemic racism. This prompted differences in hiring practices, the removal of a few racially insensitive mascots and prompted the NFL to try to backtrack their statements about Colin Kapernick’s “peaceful protest.” 

I’m thrilled that people are taking this time to learn more about the world outside of their little bubble, but it seems confined to one movement and not a general shift towards true racial equality.

So today, I’m going to be explaining a couple things you need to know, as a White person, about Indigenous rights.

First we’re gonna start with the origin of Indigenous People’s Day.

October 12th was historically considered “Columbus Day.” However, due to the immense dislike that people, like me, hold for that man, it has been changed in a number of states. Instead of celebrating a man who is responsible for genocide and slavery, we celebrate Indigenous Peoples and their culture.


Now here’s one of the big things here: do NOT use this as an excuse to make the day all about you.


It just straight up isn’t about us. We can have our OktoberFests (German) and Dozinky Days (Czech) to celebrate our culture, but you have to realize that not everything is about you. That includes any tearful posts about how bad you feel for the poor Native American people who were oppressed in the olden times (oppression is still around, and your ancestors probably had something to do WITH said oppression).


So here’s how to not suck on Indigenous Peoples Day.


1. Read about it. Don’t start sharing it with tearful captions or angry responses. Just read about it. Social media is bound to give you some easy-to-digest Instagram posts about the history of Indigenous rights. 


2. Listen. Like I said before, it isn’t your time to talk. Just listen. Think about what you hear. Try to apply it to your own life. Think critically about your own actions; are you doing things that activists are telling you are harmful? Stop doing them.


3. Chat about what you learn with your friends. Spread these ideas to your other White friends and family. Chances are, they’ll listen to you much better than they’d listen to Native folks. Discuss your own mistakes and learn from them together.


4. Share resources you find. We don’t need your comments. We don’t need your outrage. We need your help. Just share the post. You don’t need to show off every good thing you do. Just share the resources.


5. And the most important one: you are not a bad person if you didn’t know. Learning new things can make us feel guilty for not knowing things, and that guilt can prevent you from learning more. It’s okay to make mistakes, but it’s important to better yourself when you realize you’ve made one. Be gentle with yourself, but keep learning.


I have three important tips I learned from one Professor, Robert Brault:


1. Many times the reason there are sometimes a couple different names for one tribe is that one of the names is the name they called themselves (this is the most “correct one” usually). The others came from other tribes that were asked about their neighbors (and some of these names border on being a slur).


2. There is no one Native American culture. When you talk about cultural practices, refer to the tribe that carried these out (i.e. Moccasins are from Anishnabeg culture {usually known as Ojibwe, which means “puckered toe,” and is not what the Anishnabeg usually call themselves})


3. And to reiterate: You know nothing. Learn.


I’m also going to link a couple resources below for you to start:

These explain what Indigenous Peoples Day is, and why it’s a holiday

Indigenous Peoples Day Wikipedia 


PBS Indigenous Peoples Day

Do Something Dot. Org

These are some local historical events you might want to know about (they will not make you feel good, so be prepared)

U of M Teaching the War of 1862 resources

From the “Sioux Massacres” to the “Dakota Genocide”

Star Tribune: St. Paul Follows Minneapolis in Labeling U.S.-Dakota War as “Genocide”


Also, if I see any one of you wearing a “Native American costume” for Halloween, I’m emailing your workplace and school <3.