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Celebrating the resilience of Indigenous people in the Americas and rewriting the colonizer narrative of Columbus Day.

History of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Since the 1970s, activists have called for Columbus Day to be abolished and replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In 2021, President Biden officially recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a federal holiday, but it was recognized by many communities and cities decades before then. In 2014, urban Indigenous activists and allies in Seattle pushed for recognition, which was supported by local tribes. After initial opposition, the Seattle City Council passed a resolution to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, though official recognition didn’t come until 2022, when the council voted to legally recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a city holiday.

Despite the genocide Indigenous peoples have been subjected to by European colonizers in this country, the rest of the Americas, and the world, Indigenous peoples are still here. They have remained resilient through forced assimilation and oppression and despite the many forms of discrimination they face today, from healthcare inequity to attempted erasure of their cultures and existence. While recognizing the inequities Indigenous peoples face, it is also important to recognize their achievements and celebrate their lives.

History and Myths of Columbus Day

When Columbus came ashore in 1492 on land that we now call the Bahamas, he was not the first outsider to have explored the Americas — yet the myth that he “discovered” this land persists. (And he mistakenly thought he had landed in India.) In fact, other explorers had been here before him, and Indigenous peoples had already been living here since time immemorial.

Columbus Day was initially celebrated — as early as the 1700s — to recognize Italian American heritage. Italian Americans faced discrimination and laws restricting their immigration to the US in late 19th and early 20th centuries. However, since the 1970s, activists have advocated celebrating Indigenous People’ Day instead. That is because celebrating Columbus ultimately celebrates colonization. Columbus Day is still a recognized federal holiday.

Indigenous Peoples of Washington State

There are 29 federally recognized tribes in Washington State, along with some that have yet to receive federal recognition, such as the Duwamish. Indigenous peoples in Washington have long histories and diverse cultures. They lead many local efforts to revitalize and preserve their cultural traditions and teach outsiders about them. For example, last year, local Native people spoke with the Seattle Times about efforts to reintroduce First Foods back into their diets and reclaim their history cultivating and preparing these foods. Tribes around Puget Sound have worked to teach their language, Lushootseed, to new generations so the language doesn’t die out. Additionally, Lummi Nation and the Puyallup Tribe received federal funding for programs to protect and preserve their languages.


Photo caption: “Guests from the Great River” art installation in front of the Burke Museum.