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Frequently Asked Questions about Indigenous Peoples Day
Adapted with permission from the website of IPD Wellesley

Why celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day?

Indigenous Peoples Day acknowledges the Original Peoples of Turtle Island – this land we now call North America – as well as Indigenous communities worldwide. It is a day to celebrate the wisdom and resilience of the many hundreds of Indigenous Nations who have inhabited these lands for tens of thousands of years. It is an opportunity to begin correcting a false historical narrative that dehumanizes and erases Indigenous Peoples in order to justify the theft and colonization of their homelands. 

Indigenous Peoples Day provides an opportunity to center the voices of Indigenous people, whose sciences, cultures, and ways of life carry much needed wisdom on how to live sustainably in balanced relation with each other and the land.

The decades-long demand of Indigenous Nations for Indigenous Peoples Day was formally recognized by the UN Geneva Conference Declaration in 1977. The declaration resolved “to observe October 12, the day of so-called ‘discovery’ of America, as an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.”

How does Indigenous Peoples Day help our community?

IPD begins to remedy the harmful effects of racist, genocidal US policies and inaccurate histories that normalize colonization and white supremacy. These harmful effects include the erasure and negative stereotypes of Indigenous Peoples in media, education, and public consciousness, all of which directly impact the experiences of Indigenous people as well as everyone in our community. Antiracism and teaching the truth benefit everyone because we can only experience our full humanity when we acknowledge the full humanity of all people.

Why replace Columbus Day? Why not celebrate both?

We cannot celebrate both Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day. Celebrating the myth of Columbus is an affront to Indigenous Nations because it glorifies the man who initiated the genocide of their people. Columbus didn’t “discover" America. Prior to colonization, Indigenous Peoples had been here since time immemorial. They had complex cultures with diverse population centers, horticulture, cross-continental trade routes, and kinship relations with each other and their ecosystems. Indigenous Peoples have resisted colonization, and many have kept their cultures and languages alive through traditional values and practices. 

Columbus was a merchant funded by Spain to find a trade route to India. When he landed on the densely populated island of present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, his actions initiated the genocide of the Arawak and Taino people. Acting within the framework of what later became known as the Doctrine of Discovery, he promulgated a culture that engaged in murder, land theft, rape, and enslavement. His legacy resulted in the devastating loss of Indigenous culture, ecosystems and biodiversity worldwide and led to our current environmental crisis. 

Our continued heroization of Columbus causes great pain and harm to Indigenous people and compounds the intergenerational trauma they carry with them today. Non-Native children are also harmed when they are taught that it is normal to celebrate a symbol of white supremacy. Indigenous peoples are presenting us with a wonderful opportunity to take a first step toward healing and reconciliation.

But isn't Columbus Day really a celebration of Italian American Heritage?

Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is not anti-Italian; it is an anti-racist stand against the genocidal legacy of Columbus. Many Italian Americans choose to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people and values (Italian Americans for IPD). Somerville mayor Joe Curtatone, in writing about his town’s decision to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, said, “Columbus Day is a relic of an outdated and oversimplified version of history… As an Italian-American, it feels good that there is a holiday that is nominally about us… Yet the specifics of this holiday run so deep into human suffering that we need to shift our pride elsewhere.”

Where else is Indigenous Peoples Day celebrated?

The national movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is growing rapidly. South Dakota began observing Native American Day instead of Columbus Day in 1990. Berkeley, CA was the first town to adopt Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992. Today, Indigenous Peoples Day is officially celebrated in lieu of Columbus Day in 14 states and the District of Columbia, as well as in more than 130 cities, including the following cities and towns in Massachusetts:

  • Amherst

  • Arlington

  • Brookline

  • Cambridge

  • Easthampton

  • Great Barrington 

  • Marblehead

  • Mashpee

  • Maynard

  • Melrose

  • Newton

  • Northampton

  • Pittsfield

  • Provincetown

  • Salem

  • Somerville

  • Wellesley

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