On Monday, Oct. 10, schools and colleges across the country will close to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While any break from the tests and papers you have to write may be welcome and any trip home to visit your pet may be something you anticipate, it’s important to understand this day and the history that comes with it.

The Library of Congress states that Indigenous Peoples’ Day originated as Columbus Day in 1934. It was a day to recognize Christopher Colombus, supposedly the first man to come to America. Columbus’s story has been taught to us since we were kids, but the truth behind his exploration is rarely included in the story. Indigenous peoples occupied North America for thousands of years prior to Columbus’s arrival, yet they were still subject to his physical and mental abuse. He enslaved thousands of individuals, either keeping them to work and collect gold or sending them away from their families to Spain. According to Vox, there is estimated to be a 99% decrease in the Native population only 50 years after Christopher Columbus came to the Americas. 

Today, the treatment of Native Americans is often pushed aside, just like their treatment 500 years ago was. Many Native Americans have to deal with poverty creating limited access to healthcare, housing and education. Some live on native reservations which are government-recognized pieces of land that are home to specific tribes. However, wealthy companies are exploiting this land by building factories and polluting their water. Just about 50% of native homes on these reservations do not have access to water.

Columbus Day began to be recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1989 in South Dakota after rising tensions and protests regarding who we were actually celebrating on Oct. 10. Today, not every state recognizes the day as Indigenous Peoples Day. Only Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia and Wisconsin have made the permanent switch. This does not include states that recognize the day under both names. Native American people deserve better treatment from society today and deserve respect for the treatment their ancestors faced.

There are quite a few ways to celebrate and honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Bestcolleges.com provides a great list of resources and ways to honor Native communities. Recognizing that you reside on Native land is an easy way to respect Indigenous peoples. This recognizes Natives as the first people to live in America and respects the relationship they have with this land. If you would like to support Indigenous communities and make a change politically, you can sign petitions online, write to your local Congressperson about the importance of Native equality or donate to a Native organization such as the Native American Rights Fund or the Native American Heritage Association. If you are unable to donate, educating yourself is a great way to spend the day. There are online events hosted by the National Museum of American Indians or you can look to see if there is a Landback campaign in your area. There are even books written about Native history or written by Native authors you can read, like “Braiding Sweetgrass” and “We had a Little Real Estate Problem.” Even spreading the message about the history of the holiday and why it is important to recognize Native communities is a great way to spend the day!

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