A Guide To Celebrating Indigenous People’s Day

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Above photo: David McNew, Getty Images.

Has your city recently abolished Columbus Day and adopted Indigenous Peoples Day? Are you looking for some ways to celebrate the holiday? While I am not usually in the business of educating folks on Native things (there are plenty of Native folks out here doing this work I am just not one of them) something about this day has me feeling generous. Lucky for you, I come from a gift-giving culture (you’re welcome). Here are some ideas:

1. Find out the name of the tribe(s) whose land you live on and then make sure all your friends and family know that name. Understand that while you did not personally colonize or commit genocide against an entire people you are the benefactor of those legacies of violence and displacement. Know those legacies.

2. Take your newly acquired knowledge of those Indigenous people whose land you are visiting and acknowledge it publicly. Announce it at work, school, or at some point in your day. Go home and tell your family. Enthusiastically chant it to the people you pass on the sidewalk. Take it to social media and educate the masses. Whose land do you live on and what happened to make your presence on their land possible?

3. Talk to your kids and students about settler colonialism. If you are not familiar with that term use Google or your local library and find some Native-authored books that will explain it to you. Understand that while some folks came to settle in the United States under forcible displacement, relocation, the need to live in safety, health, and with adequate material realities, and/or other circumstances outside your control you have a relationship to settler colonialism. Reflect on that relationship.

4. Support your local Native businesses and artists by buying their work and visiting their shops, galleries, and restaurants. Go online and buy Native (not “Native- inspired”) art, music, and books. Make a donation to your favorite Native non-profit whose invaluable work our communities depend on. My ideas include the The Native Youth Sexual Health Network, Winona LaDuke Honor the Earth, and the Native Scholars – American Indian College Fund, but there are many more great organizations out there you can and should support with your cash donations, time, and resources.

5. If you attend a university or other public/private institution whose history with Natives is particularly racist know that history. Educate yourself. Do not ask your token Native friend to explain it to you, but be thankful and self-critical if and when they do. When the inevitable racist comment is made in your class discussion or daily conversations take on the emotional labor of disputing it so that the Native students and others do not have to.

6. Send a letter or text or email to that special Indigenous person in your life and congratulate them for surviving 500+ years of colonialism. Hug a Native friend, permitting you have their consent. Kiss that Native cutie you’ve been eyeing and if they kiss you back consult this essay to learn how to engage your decolonial love muscles. This way you will have some tools to become a less oppressive date/partner:

7. Burn your “Navajo-inspired” panties, boycott your Urban Outfitters, and work through your attachment to the dream catcher hanging above your bed or the racist mascot on your shirt.

8. Read and think deeply about the unsettling, large, and often ignored number of Indigenous women who are missing, murdered and sexually assaulted.  Know the names of trans Native women who are too often the targets of physical, spiritual, and sexual violence.  There are Native organizations, artists, and activists doing vital anti-violence and feminist work.  Find their work on social media and help uplift it.  If your liberation is inextricably bound with ours then, please, work with us.

9. Go ahead and attend your local Indigenous Peoples Day ceremony or anti-Columbus Day rally. When you do, remember to take up less space and ask yourself how you can better be in solidarity with Native people, struggles, and triumphs. After you are done asking yourselves, ask your communities what you can do to collectively contribute to Indigenous land reclamation projects, language revitalization programs, and more generally uplift the voices of Native peoples. When given the opportunity, listen to Native people and engage with our means of asking for what we need and want. Native communities are the best equipped to articulate what we need from non-Native folks trying to be in solidarity and our right to self-determination is entirely our own. While your support of Indigenous people is graciously accepted your patronizing claps and/or approval is not. Challenge yourselves and your loved ones to learn your relationship to settler colonialism. Be more critical, loving people.

10. Finally, commit to doing this work every day not just when it’s a federal holiday. After all, when you live on Turtle Island, every day is Indigenous Peoples Day.

Taylor is Anishinaabe from the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in North Dakota. A recovering Ivy League graduate and underemployed legal advocate, she currently resides in Minneapolis, Minnesota. When not working or reading the latest queer theory, you can find her biking around a lake, gawking at art, or roasting vegetables.