On Indigenous People’s Day: It’s Never Too Early to Teach or Too Late to Learn

October 11, 2023
Blog Post

By DC Action on October 11, 2021

It’s Never Too Early to Teach or Too Late to Learn

It takes time to unlearn colonial mythology disguised as history, especially when you grow up repeating catchy rhymes and coloring in cartoonish pictures of people who perpetuated genocide. Dangerous and damaging depictions of indigenous people and the utterly racist Doctrine of Discovery, on which law has been based in Western civilization for centuries, have been so pervasive that, for a long time, the true stories of indigenous people in the United States were all but erased.

Only as recently as 2019 did the District of Columbia discard the celebration of Columbus Day on the second Monday of October and replace it with Indigenous People’s Day. Although Indigenous People’s Day was first proposed in 1977, it wasn’t until 1992 that an American city–Berkeley, California–adopted the commemoration. Even now, only 16 states and 100+ cities have adopted Indigenous People’s Day.

Much of America still honors an Italian man who initiated the transatlantic slave trade. “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” Columbus wrote, and the United States and certainly the District of Columbia (he’s even immortalized in our name) are still reeling from its effects 600 years later.

So what do we do?

At DC Action, we dedicate ourselves to making the District of Columbia a place where all kids grow up safe, resilient, powerful, and heard. In our city, most of the children and youth are Black and brown, many descended from ancestors whose lives were directly affected by the slave trade and the economic and social legacy it left behind. There are not a lot of Native Americans still living in the District, but it is essential we stand together in solidarity with indigenous people, and a first step toward true allyship is educating ourselves. When we talk about children growing up “powerful and heard,” that means we need to listen to and amplify their voices, and do whatever we can to help them step into their power. That responsibility extends to our indigenous siblings.

To celebrate Indigenous People’s Day this year–and celebrate indigenous people always–we recommend these resources. We owe it to each other and to our children to make the time to learn and to teach the true stories of Native Americans. As Aborginial activist Lila Watson explained, “If you have come here to help me, you are wasting your time. But if you have come because your liberation is bound up with mine, then let us work together.”

Abolish Columbus Day Campaign The Zinn Education Project created an accessible discussion of the history of Columbus Day and efforts to abolish it and replace it with Indigenous People’s Day. This resource is useful for young people and adults.

An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People is an adaptation by Debbie Reese, Jean Mendoza, and Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz of Dunbar-Ortiz’s award-winning An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States. You can read an insightful review of the young people’s adaptation, written by a group of Native American youth, on Indigo’s Bookshelf: Voices of Native Youth.

Native Knowledge 360 is the education initiative of the National Museum of the American Indian. On October 11, Native Knowledge 360 presents a free webinar called Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Black-Indigenous Youth Advancing Social Justice. The webinar will be available online after the event.

As a reminder that our identities overlap, and we are all part of many communities, read this article LGBTQIA+ Pride and Two-Spirit People from Smithsonian Voices.

It’s never too early to teach or too late to learn the truth about our history.