Indigenous People’s Day: What is it and why is it important?

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BECKLEY, WV (WVNS) — Columbus Day was officially recognized as a national holiday in 1934 and a federal holiday in 1971, giving a majority of families the day off on the second Monday in October.

Columbus Day is not the only holiday recognized on the second Monday in October.

Indigenous People’s Day was first recognized in Berkeley, California in 1992 and more than 130 cities and 20 states in the US have now adopted it. Andrea Kent, Associate Professor of Political Science at WVU Tech, said recognizing Indigenous People’s Day is important because it helps bring attention to the mistreatment of Indigenous groups in our nation’s history.

“Indigenous People’s Day wants to supplant in many ways the idea of what ended up being a very violent overtaking of native people’s by Europeans with a celebration of native culture,” Kent said.

President Biden was the first U.S. President to officially recognize Indigenous People’s Day as a national holiday and there is a bill in Congress to make it a federal holiday.

At least 36 statues of Christopher Columbus were torn down in response to growing backlash over the holiday including major cities like Richmond, Virginia; Boston, Massachusetts and St. Paul, Minnesota.

Professor Kent said the growing recognition helps bring attention to the current battle Indigenous tribes face in the country and that they are a fundamental part of this nation’s past and present.

“The reality is we have millions of Native American people still in the United States today,” Kent said. “We have hundreds of tribes that have this incredibly valuable culture that they have fought tremendously hard over centuries to hang on to.”

As the conversation evolves, Professor Kent said it’s important to continue to educate and learn about the parts of history we might not see every day; including Indigenous history here in the Mountain State.

“We do not have reservations in the eastern part of the country as a whole or in West Virginia,” Kent said. “But there is an indigenous culture here, there are descendants of indigenous peoples in Southern West Virginia, so get in touch with those.”

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