A growing movement within the United States is leading people to celebrate Native Americans’ Day on the second Monday of each October.
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Traditionally, this has been the day reserved to honor Christopher Columbus’ discovery of America. While Americans of European descent use Columbus Day as an opportunity to learn about the arrival of one of the earliest European explorers to visit the Americas, the Native American community has had quite a different outlook. Because the advent of Europeans to North America’s shores brought disease, violence and a loss of cultural cohesion among tribes, Native Americans tend to be reluctant to observe a day in Columbus’ honor.
Currently, South Dakota is the only state that officially celebrates Native Americans’ Day instead of Columbus Day. American Indians make up about 10 percent of that state’s population, which is why the movement to give up Columbus Day in favor of Native Americans’ Day gained such traction. In 1990, South Dakota Governor George Mickelson declared a “Year of Reconciliation” between Native Americans and citizens of European descent.
Each year, Native Americans and whites gather at the Crazy Horse Memorial to celebrate native culture. This includes performances by native singers and dancers as well as displays of native artwork. Storytellers weave traditional tales for appreciative audiences and young attendees take part in a number of hand-on activities. Buffalo stew is on the menu, and explosives work on the massive Crazy Horse monument goes forward to loud acclaim from the viewers.
The movement toward celebrating a version of Native Americans’ Day is growing in other places across the country. Seattle, Washington now celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October. The occasion is marked by performances by nearly 30 Washington State tribes in the streets of the city. A similar movement in Minneapolis led to the establishment of an Indigenous Peoples’ Day in that city too. The celebration begins with a sunrise ceremony on a local beach that is followed by traditional dances at the American Indian Center. At the Powwow Grounds, it’s possible to attend a panel discussion regarding Native American culture.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also celebrated at Berkeley, California, a tradition that’s been in place since 1992. A free powwow is presented each year. It’s augmented by an Indian Market where everyone can purchase traditional handicrafts and meaningfully interact with members of the local Indian tribes. Hawaii celebrates a slightly different holiday on the same day. Known as Discoverers’ Day, this holiday commemorates the Polynesian explorers who were the first to land on the shores of Hawaii.
Several other cities and states across the nation are beginning to observe a day that honors native tribes instead of Christopher Columbus. The movement is not without detractors. Italian Americans in particular are among the protestors who are against taking away a holiday that they feel celebrates their heritage. In fact, Denver, Colorado was the scene of violent Columbus Day observances for several years between members of native tribes and white Americans who were mainly of Italian descent. Nonetheless, it seems clear that a growing number of communities will be moving away from Columbus Day celebrations as the movement to honor Native Americans gains traction.