Since 1937, Columbus Day has been recognized as a national holiday. On August 12th, St. Paul becomes the sixth city in the United States to swap that holiday for Indigenous People’s Day. This marks the beginning of a hard fought effort to heal a deep wound at the heart of this nation. The resolution was sponsored by Ward One Council member Dai Thao and sailed through council chambers on a seven-zero vote. Members of the Native American community and the Saint Paul Human Rights and Equal Opportunity Commission drafted the original document.
In a community event organized by the Native American Community Development Institute (NACDI) on August 12, 2015, the Ramsey County Courthouse was filled with over 200 community members and activists who rejoiced in a standing ovation when the legislation was officially announced. Heidi Tucker of the Ho-Chunk Nation stated, “This accomplishment not only symbolizes our presence here, but our legacy. It humanizes who we are as people.”
Minnesota is the first state with two major cities opting for this change. Berkley, California has recognized Indigenous People’s Day since 1992 and Seattle being the third city, and so far, the only one with protestors. When asked about the potential backlash here in St. Paul, Jessica Kingston, Director of Human Rights and Equal Economic Opportunity in Ramsey County says, “The important thing is, we are not terminating anything. We are saying that on the day the federal government is recognizing Columbus Day, we, as a community, are acknowledging that there were people here before Columbus and we want to celebrate that in addition to what America celebrates as a discovery—and by celebrating those people, we are not taking away from anyone else.”
Today is the beginning of a long journey. On October 12, 2015 there will be a much anticipated event to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Beyond the event, there is a push to expand this change. Jay Bad Heart Bull, President of NACDI, says that “the next step is to push this change onto a state level. We also need to create mechanisms to celebrate and educate indigenous identity and culture and to educate non-native people about the contributions made my natives to this land, the history of how we came to be here, and why we’re still here despite all we’ve had to overcome and against all odds. This change is more than anything, a tool to help educate.”
For now, the legislation stands as a symbol of recognition and hope for Native Americans and indigenous communities, but the work to educate and tell the stories that have been lost, is still at large. Peggy Flanagan, community activist and Executive Director of the Children’s Defense Fund states, “There is a real need, broadly in communities, but especially in public schools to talk about the truth, because in many ways what we are seeing is the beginning of the end [of indigenous voices and histories].”