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New indigenous peoples day challenges the status quo

Last month, a vote passed through the Minneapolis City Council asking for the recognition of Indigenous People’s Day on what is popularly known as Christopher Columbus Day. While Indigenous People’s Day is not a legal holiday, it will be officially recognized by the city and share the spotlight with Columbus Day.

In case you don’t remember from high school history class, Christopher Columbus was a highly-esteemed Italian explorer, the so-called discoverer of the New World and the first man to set foot on American soil. He initialized European colonization of the Americas, eventually resulting in the arrival of the first American settlers.

In 1934, the United States government declared Christopher Columbus Day a federal holiday in honor of his establishment of the Americas. Columbus officially landed on October 12, 1492, but Columbus Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October, when the government closes and students have a day off from school.

But what about the natives whom Columbus and the first colonists encountered in America? For generations before Columbus’ arrival, “Indians” thrived on “American” soil. But their memory and history were brushed aside as colonists arrived in the New World, an unsettled land full of opportunity for Europeans.

Today, Christopher Columbus’s discovery is taught in schools in the first chapter of American history textbooks. Columbus is painted as someone who brought life to America, initiating many new explorations to previously unknown lands. But the Native Americans knew the land. It was their home.

Native American history takes up a small portion of the history taught in schools, if it appears at all. As a result, American Indian children receive little schooling about their own heritage. Each year, Thanksgiving dominates the November – and even October – curriculum. It symbolizes the unification of the early American colonists and the Indians, which is typically portrayed as a moment of peace and harmony between the two groups. But the Trail of Tears and the Indian Removal Act of 1830 are brushed over quickly and the oppression of the Native culture is downplayed.

According to the Star Tribune, two percent of residents in Minneapolis are American Indian, descending from pre-colonial tribes. On the 2010 census, 1.3 percent of the population in Minnesota was American Indian or Alaska Native, slightly lower from the proportion in Minneapolis.

Data from the State of Minnesota website shows that there are still eleven Native American Reservations in Minnesota. Seven belong to the Anishinaabe Chippewa, Ojibwe tribe, while four belong to the Dakota Sioux peoples, the two predominant tribes still residing in Minnesota.

Members from these tribes came together in Minneapolis for the vote in support of Indigenous People’s Day. But this win was over a 50-year battle and they still haven’t won – not completely.

The American Indian culture has been repressed since America’s origins. They were torn from the land that was theirs for centuries and forced to live on Indian Reservations. As the demand rose from white settlers, pieces of that land were taken away until the enactment of the 1934 Indian Reorganization Act.

The citywide recognition of Indigenous People’s Day represents solid progress for Native Americans. But it’s still not a legal holiday, as it remains outshined by Columbus Day. Minneapolis is not the first city to recognize the holiday, but it’s only among a handful of other cities.

Minneapolis’s vote raised awareness around the nation, sparking debate and bringing this conversation to the forefront of people’s minds. The history of Native American oppression is not something to be forgotten. The Native Americans have a rich culture that should be celebrated. Hopefully other cities will soon follow Minneapolis’s lead. However, there must be change at the federal level as well. A holiday like Indigenous People’s Day should not be overshadowed by Columbus Day; it should be nationally recognized. Native American history is a significant part of American history, something that all citizens should learn about, understand and respect.

Katie Haggstrom ’14 is from Omaha, Neb. She majors in English with an Africa and the Americas concentration.