President Joe Biden has become the first president to issue a proclamation officially marking Indigenous Peoples Day, today, October 11.
Issued on Friday by the White House, the Presidential Proclamation states the day will celebrate “Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”
The proclamation encourages people to recognize the many Native American Indian, Alaska Native Tribal communities, and Native Hawaiian cultures that make up the United States of America, who "have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations."
Indigenous Peoples' Day will be observed alongside the congressionally established Columbus Day, a federal holiday. Biden calls for observing the day with appropriate ceremonies and activities, as well as directing that every public building display the flag of the United States.
Columbus Day began as a celebration by Italian immigrants of the day the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus arrived on the shores of what would be known as the New World in 1492. Proclaimed in 1892 by Republican President Benjamin Harrison, establishing the day helped resolve a diplomatic crisis with Italy after 11 Italian immigrants were lynched in New Orleans. President Franklin D Roosevelt made it a public holiday in1934.
For many, however, the day is seen as a symbol of colonization and oppression of Indigenous people. In 1977, Indigenous Peoples' Day took root at an international conference on discrimination sponsored by the UN. Since then, many cities and states have chosen to celebrate it as an alternative to Columbus Day.
It is estimated that in just over a century, 56 million people died in the Americas as a result of the initial European invasion. That's about 90 percent of the pre-Colombian Indigenous population and was around 10 percent of the world’s population at the time; the largest mortality event in proportion to the global population. The history of the North American country is tarred with shocking savagery and massacres of Indigenous people right up to the 20th century.
“Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to. That is especially true when it comes to upholding the rights and dignity of the Indigenous people who were here long before colonization of the Americas began. For generations, Federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” the proclamation reads.
“We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country. Today, we acknowledge the significant sacrifices made by Native peoples to this country — and recognize their many ongoing contributions to our Nation.”
In June, President Biden officially made Juneteenth a federal holiday, commemorating the end of slavery in the US.