Forget Columbus Day. What if we celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day?


Columbus Day is not a public holiday in 24 states, including Oklahoma–but Native American activists are calling for cities to go one step further and designate the date that would be Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

NewsOK reports that Oklahoma City is weighing up a council bill that would recognize the second weekend of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in recognition of “indigenous people, their history, and contributions to the city of Oklahoma City.”

“We’re seeing it happen in Seattle and it’s happened in Minneapolis. We could be the fourth large city to do something like this,” Sarah Adams-Cornell, an activist and member of the Choctaw Nation, told the Oklahoman. “Native people are really organizing behind this.”

Meanwhile, activists calling for Columbus Day to be dropped in New Mexico will be rallying in Albuquerque next Monday (Columbus Day).

The city of Anadarko, fifty miles south west of the state capital, passed a council bill last month declaring that the city will observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day from this year onwards:

While it’s just a symbolic recognition—it will not be a public holiday—the wording of the announcement is significant. In their declaration, the city makes it clear that they’re acknowledging the history of Native Americans in the area and, importantly, commits to addressing the disadvantage that many Native Americans grow up with. The declaration says:

“The City of Anadarko is dedicated to opposing systemic racism towards Indigenous people in the United States, which perpetuates high rates of poverty and income inequality, exacerbating disproportionate health, education, and social crises.”

It’s not clear what specifically they’ll do to tackle those issues, but the fact that the intention is set out in writing is a sign of some progress.

There is a wider national movement to abolish Columbus Day, which commemorates the arrival of explorer Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492, and the beginning of the colonization of the United States. As some activists have pointed out, it also marks the beginning of a the bloody oppression of Native American tribes who were already here.

Oklahoma City council members were split 4-4 in a vote on the bill last week. The council will hold a tie-breaker vote next Tuesday, when a ninth council member will be present. After last week’s vote, local activists issued a statement saying, “At its heart, this issue is not about having a ‘chip on your shoulder’ as was suggested by one Council member. It is about recognizing that, despite a turbulent history, Indigenous peoples’ have contributed tremendously to building this city, state and nation into its current greatness.”

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