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Understanding Indigenous Culture in North Dakota Series - Indigenous Peoples Day

Indigenous Peoples’ Day was created to honor the cultures and histories of Indigenous people. It grew increasingly common as a day celebrated rather than Columbus Day, which is meant to celebrate the explorer who sailed with a crew from Spain in three ships, the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria, and landed in the New World on October 12, 1492. The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day was on October 12, 1792, the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ landing. By its 400th anniversary, it was declared an official holiday following a proclamation in 1892 from former U.S. president Benjamin Harrison, who described Columbus as “the pioneer of progress and enlightment,” the U.S. Library of Congress explains.

The first seed of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was planted at a U.N. international conference on discrimination in 1977. The first state to recognize the day was South Dakota in 1989.

As of 2021, the holiday is observed or honored by states including Virginia, Maine, Texas, New Mexico, Vermont, Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, North Carolina, Wisconsin, as well as South Dakota which celebrates Native Americans’ Day, Hawaii, which celebrates Discoverers’ Day, and Alabama, which celebrates American Indian Heritage Day.

For Indigenous People, Columbus Day was hurtful as it glorified the violent past constituting 500 years of colonial torture and oppression by European explorers like Columbus and those who settled in America. The reason for celebrating this day instead is that many Indigenous and Non-Indigenous groups do not wish to celebrate Christopher Columbus, the Italian navigator whom the holiday is named for, as they state he brought genocide and colonization to Indigenous communities, who were successful, self-sufficient and sustained life in the United States for thousands of years, prior to Columbus arrival. Columbus Day draws attention to pain, trauma, and broken promises. Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates, recognizes, and honors the beautiful traditions and cultures of the Indigenous People, not just in America, but around the world. Their way of life and culture carries wisdom and valuable insights into how we can live life more sustainably.

In 2021, President Joe Biden was the first president to make a proclamation regarding Indigenous Peoples’ Day. “For generations, Federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” President Biden wrote. “Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”

Objective: Have students check out this map of Native American Tribes you've never seen before. This lesson is best utilized by grades 4-8 .

For more detailed and historical information, visit:

  • Why more places are abandoning Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day (

  • What Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day? - HISTORY

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