Last Monday (Oct.9), across the nation, many celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day, though some continue to call it Columbus Day. As a member of the Iowa Tribe of Kansas and Nebraska and United Houma Nation living in New Orleans, I was taken aback when some individuals insisted in news and social media posts that it should be Columbus Day.
In 2019, Louisiana designated Oct. 14 as the first Indigenous Peoples Day. Yet, it’s absent from the state’s official holiday list. Continuing to recognize this holiday a, remains uncertain. In November 2021, New Orleans recognized the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day, championed by City Council President Helen Moreno. New Orleans is on traditional Chitimacha territory, with neighboring areas being territories of the Houma, Tunica, Caddo, Atakapa, Choctaw and Natche.
Louisiana’s historical representation of minority groups has often been skewed. The legacies of Native Americans and Columbus isn’t a fresh debate. Today we have accurate historical information. Whether we grow in understanding or remain bound by outdated teachings is our choice.
The debate over whether to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Columbus Day is rooted in evolving historical perspectives and cultural sensitivities. By choosing to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we recognize the rich history, culture, and contributions of the Indigenous communities of the Americas that thrived long before Columbus’s arrival.
Historical research has revealed Columbus’s involvement in the mistreatment, enslavement and acts of violence against the Indigenous populations, prompting many to reconsider his legacy. His voyages ushered in European colonization of the Americas. Europeans brought smallpox and measles which devastated Indigenous populations. Columbus and his men subjected natives to violence, slavery, and cultural erasure.
As Europeans expanded their reach, they occupied Indigenous territories and imposed European customs and beliefs. The devastating repercussions of Columbus’s explorations have become central to discussions on colonialism and Indigenous rights today.
By shifting the focus to Indigenous Peoples’ Day we can educate people about the actual histories and cultures of Indigenous communities, We can also correct the fallacy that Columbus “discovered” a land already bustling with civilizations. This recognition is not just about looking back but also about supporting reconciliation and healing, and acknowledging past wrongs and working toward a more inclusive future. Observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day aligns with the growing trend across the United States to changing societal views.
As a Native American lowning a Native business in New Orleans, I’d like to propose a call to action, proclaiming the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in Louisiana.
To the esteemed officials of Louisiana, and its cities and parishes:
Louisiana’s rich history is intertwined with Indigenous tribes, yet their stories often remain overshadowed, their contributions unrecognized, and their challenges unaddressed. It is time we right this oversight and honor the legacy and continued presence of our Indigenous communities.
To rectify this and honor our Indigenous communities, we urge a unified proclamation: designate the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day in Louisiana. This isn’t just about symbolism but a commitment to:
- Education: Enlighten our communities about native tribes, their traditions and current issues.
- Recognition: Celebrate the Indigenous contributions to our state’s cultural and economic fabric.
- Reconciliation: Address past and present injustices, foster dialogue and healing.
- Preservation: Champion the conservation of Indigenous languages, arts and sacred sites.
By adopting this resolution, Louisiana shows its commitment to true history, diversity and equity for its Indigenous populations. Join us in making this change and honoring our state’s Indigenous heritage.
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