Untold Stories Guide

Indigenous Peoples' Day

Since the 1930s the second Monday of October has been designated as the federally recognized holiday “Columbus Day” to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage to and “discovery” of the Americas. However, for many years Native American communities have condemned the celebration of a man who, along with his contemporaries, began an era of genocide and slavery. Instead, tribal communities have called for the recognition and celebration of the Indigenous peoples thriving in the United States prior to Columbus’ arrival. (1) On Monday, October 12, 2015 the City of Corvallis celebrated Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time and became a part of the larger national movement to “honor the history and living legacies of the first peoples of the Americas.” (2)

The idea of Indigenous Peoples’ Day was brought before the United Nations in 1977, but as early as the 1950s Oregon’s tribal communities were requesting a declaration to abolish Columbus Day. And yet it was not until recently that cities across the United States began to adopt the change. (3) Although the types of celebrations vary from state to state, only four states, including Oregon, do not recognize the holiday. One of those states, South Dakota, established Native American Day in 1990. Two years later, in 1992, the city council of Berkeley, California, was the first to declare the day Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and over the last several decades, cities such as Seattle and Minneapolis began to commemorate the holiday as well. In 2015, a number of cities across the nation, including Olympia, WA, St. Paul, MN, Bexar County, TX, and Carrboro, NC, all declared the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Two cities in Oregon joined the list as well: Portland and Corvallis. (4)

In the summer of 2015 a group from OSU led by the Native American Longhouse (NAL) Eena Haws contacted the Corvallis City Council to propose the idea Indigenous Peoples’ Day to Mayor Biff Traber. The group worked with the King Legacy Advisory Board and other community members to develop a proclamation to formally recognize the day. (5) The proclamation acknowledges the injustices suffered by Indigenous communities, it honors the Kalapuya people who originally inhabited present day Benton County, and it strongly encourages community members and organizations to recognize and promote the significant contributions of Indigenous communities. (6) The mayor’s office accepted the proposal and the NAL hosted a reception in celebration of Mayor Traber’s signing of the proclamation and formal declaration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Corvallis.

Upon reflection of the significance of the proclamation, NAL staff member and student leader William Miller, states that it was a way to “bring justice to a community that was wronged.” Luhui Whitebear-Cupp, the NAL’s assistant director, shares that “by embracing Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of the ‘other’ day we are honoring those voices and stories that are often left out in the narrative of this country.” Both Miller and Whitebear-Cupp hope that the movement will inspire even more cities across the nation to collaborate with their local tribal communities to establish and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. (7)

Photos and Sources Cited

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  1. Corvallis Mayor Biff Traber signing the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Proclamation, OSU’s Native American Longhouse Eena Haws, October 12, 2015
  2. Proclamation: Indigenous Peoples’ Day, October 12, 2015
  3. William Miller, Matt Williams, and Luhui Whitebear-Cupp, OSU’s Native American Longhouse Eena Haws, 2015
  4. Indigenous Peoples’ Day poster, 2015