On Friday, Oct. 8, President Joseph R. Biden Jr. issued the first-ever presidential proclamation to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October. He is the first president to do so, and this proclamation is the most significant boost of support from the Federal Government in recent years.
“On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations,” President Biden’s Proclamation read. “On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today. I encourage everyone to celebrate and recognize the many Indigenous communities and cultures that make up our great country.”
The proclamation was well received across Indian Country and will join the growing list of tribal communities, organizations and nations that already recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Alongside those tribal entities, 14 states and over 100 local governments observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day.
Looking locally, the City of Durango, Colo. has recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day since 2016 when, then Fort Lewis Student, Ruthie Edd advocated for the controversial Columbus Day holiday change. After replacing Columbus Day in Durango, Fort Lewis College (FLC) followed suit and now celebrates and honors Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Each year since, there has been a full day of activities for students and community to participate in at FLC. This year’s theme was ‘Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Remembering Those That Never Made It Home,’ which pays respects to boarding school victims. By honoring the past, present and futures of Indigenous Peoples throughout the United States, the college’s day of events were held to recognize the lasting impacts of colonialism and to also celebrate the vast cultures, contributions and resilience of Indigenous Peoples.
The day started off with a poster making workshop for people to make and use in the Solidarity Walk that was held on the Fort’s campus. The rest of the day was dedicated to educating and discussing the shared history of Fort Lewis and Boarding Schools. In the evening, a social dance was held on campus for the Indigenous students and FLC community to dance and sing celebrating the day.
Following the presidential proclamation, Southern Ute Tribal Chairman, Melvin Baker released a Letter from the Office of the Chairman stating that, “This is monumental to Indian Country and the Southern Ute Indian Tribe—for centuries, Federal Indian Policies have attempted to erase the true history of American and eradicate Indigenous language and culture.” The Southern Ute Tribe was closed on Monday, Oct. 11 allowing employees to commemorate the day how they saw fit.
“We Celebrate the resiliency of Indigenous People and we call upon President Biden to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a true act of honoring the accomplishments and contributions of Indigenous People to the United States of America,” the letter from Chairman Baker stated.
The Presidential Proclamation paid tribute to the solemn obligations of the Federal Government and stated that, “We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country. Today, we acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by Native peoples to this country — and recognize their many ongoing contributions to our Nation.”