For years, the second Monday in October has been celebrated with a day off work to commemorate the voyage of Christopher Columbus to the Americas. But not only did Columbus not discover America, his voyage brought disease, forced labor, violence and destruction to the Indigenous people. Columbus deserves no celebration at all. Cities across the United States are beginning to replaceColumbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, an annual holiday recognizing the cultures and histories of Native people.
On October 12th, there are so many ways to instead honor and celebrate Native Americans — on top of recognizing Indigenous peoples’ rights and cultures all year round. What you may not know; is that spread across 90 different counties, there are approximately 476 million Indigenous people around the world who speak more than 4,000 languages. Not only is that great diversity rarely celebrated — it has even become the target of discrimination and violence.
While the pandemic has affected people around the world, Indigenous communities are among those most vulnerable to its threats because of widespread poverty and lack of access to clean water, sanitation, and medical services. But Indigenous groups are organizing to overcome the pandemic through traditional knowledge sharing, Indigenous-tailored health messaging, and through creative ideas for fundraising.
In celebration of this year’s International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples, here are five ways you can take action and support Indigenous communities around the world.
1. Get informed
One way to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day is to dispel the myths and misconceptions about Native Americans, and educate yourself on the identities and experiences of those you are seeking to support. Reclaiming Native Truth; is a U.S. based project that is an excellent place to begin learning more.
"Start by becoming educated about Indigenous groups and individuals in your community," says Vice President of the First Nations Development Institute Raymond Foxworth. "Talk about myths and misconceptions, and take the opportunity to start the conversation. Take active steps to counter discrimination, invisibility, and the dominant narratives that limit Native opportunity, access to justice, health, and determination."
Along with taking steps to get informed, it is crucial that the young Americans of our future are informed as well. The education gap between Indigenous peoples and the rest of the population remains large worldwide but particularly in the U.S, and now with the pandemic forcing schools to shut down, more children are at risk of being denied an education. You can support the future of Indigenous youth by contributing to organizations like the International Indigenous Youth Council, which provides educational and skills-based training programs for kids.
2. Protect Indigenous lands and plant native!
Illegal deforestation is not a new issue, but since the pandemic began, there have been reports around the world of increased deforestation in areas where Indigenous people live. Illegal deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and in Cambodia’s protected Prey Lang Forest have been rising — both are habitats that Indigenous communities live in and depend on for survival.
"Indigenous peoples in the US and beyond continue to be among the poorest of the poor and yet continue to fight for their inherent rights to control their lands and natural resources."
One way you can help support the protection of Indigenous lands is to vote for politicians at all levels of government who vow to advance Indigenous causes. You can also get involved with Survival International, an organization that has been stopping loggers, miners, and oil companies from encroaching on Indigenous peoples' homes since 1969.
And finally, one of the simplest ways to support a healthy ecosystem is to plant native! Native plants sustain insects, aka the cornerstones of a healthy environment. Insects in turn provide needed energy to birds and help fuel their migration in the fall. There are incredible resources about gardening with native species on the U.S. Forest Service website titled Celebrating Wildflowers. Think of the impact you can have by planting native species and returning health to your yard and neighborhood.
3. Promote Indigenous groups and businesses
Native-owned businesses represent the smallest fraction of POC-owned small businesses in the US. Still, Native and First Nations entrepreneurs are beating the odds everyday to uplift their communities and preserve the integrity of Indigenous art and culture. By getting informed and supporting Indigenous-led work, you can contribute to economic development in ways that best align with Indigenous cultures and values.
From jewelry to clothing to organic chocolate, here are ten Native-owned brands from which you can find your next gift.
4. Dive into a new book or podcast by an Indigenous writer
Another way is to read and share from the incredible collection of books by Indigenous writers. For the young people in your world, a project by Teaching for Change shares a list of books recommended by Dr. Debbie Reese (Nambé Pueblo), founder and co-editor of American Indians in Children’s Literature. Dr. Reese’s list includes everything from illustrated storybooks for young children, to middle-school fiction and nonfiction, to titles for young (or not so young) adult readers. For high-school students, and adults, start with An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People, adapted by Dr. Reese and Jean Mendoza from Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz’s more academic An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States.
The edition for younger people also has discussion questions at the back that families or classmates can talk about together either at home or over zoom, and now is the perfect time to do so!
5. Attend Indigenous Peoples’ Day community celebrations and disavow Columbus Day.
There are a number of community celebrations organized by Native people, both in-person and online. Be sure to listen to Native organizers to learn about the food or music that makes these celebrations so great, and the role they play in the culture you’re observing. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also a good time to learn about the tribes that live or lived where you live now. Native-land.ca is a web app that helps direct you to more resources about different Indigenous cultures and territories all over the world.
Along with that, Native Knowledge 360°, the museum’s National Education Initiative, is working to transform teaching and learning about Native American. One way to do this is to acknowledge the lands you live on and name the Indigenous people originally from there. See if you’re shown on this map of places that recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Revoke the Federal and local status of Columbus Day by signing petitions if your city or state has yet to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and don’t hesitate to talk to other non-Indigenous people about the history and legacy behind Columbus Day — and why it means we should be celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
And finally, be willing to have uncomfortable conversations with family and friends. Let them know that nobody is trying to "rewrite American history" but instead tell a more accurate version.