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Cities Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day: "Let's Call it An Awakening"

Many cities, such as Bozeman and Missoula, are celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day today. (SheltieBoy/flickr)
Many cities, such as Bozeman and Missoula, are celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day today. (SheltieBoy/flickr)
October 10, 2016

BOZEMAN, Mont. - While some cities recognize Columbus Day Monday, others will be celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day instead. Dozens of cities across the country, including Bozeman and Missoula, have proclaimed the second Monday of October a city holiday to honor native peoples.

Last March, Mayor Carson Taylor established Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Bozeman. Marsha Small, activist and adjunct professor at Montana State University, took the reins this year to coordinate the celebration. She cautioned against calling the expansion of cities around the country celebrating the holiday a trend.

"I've heard through various media that it's a trend, and I would prefer to stay away from that word,” Small said. "It is not a trend. Let's call it an awakening. It's almost an interpretative paradox of history that Columbus is a hero. That is not so true."

About 6.3 percent of Montana's population is Native American, much higher than the national average of around 2 percent. Events are planned at Montana State University all week to celebrate America's indigenous peoples.

The holiday is, in part, an attempt to illuminate some of the atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus and European settlers when they arrived in America. But Small said the day is not just about remembering the tragic repercussions of Columbus' landing.

"These lands that people are on, it would be good for them to know [the] history of the original inhabitants that lived there,” Small said. "Not just the bad things, but the good things too; to recognize the gifts, the contributions of the indigenous peoples to those areas."

In recent years, cities from Portland to Minneapolis have begun recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Protests opposing the Dakota Access Pipeline near the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation have recently brought attention to the concerns of Native peoples. Small said members of tribal nations from across the country have traveled to the reservation to stand in solidarity with the tribe.

"Over 200 of them have gone to Standing Rock and showed their support. That is like a United Nations at Standing Rock. That's how significant this is,” she said. "Not only do you have those nations there, those 200 specific and distinct countries, but you have their allies."

Eric Tegethoff, Public News Service - MT