On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, native Utahns call for recognition

Local leaders say they would like to see it recognized throughout state and have Columbus Day abolished.

(Steve Griffin | The Salt Lake Tribune) Carl Moore, chairperson for Peaceful Advocates for Native Dialogue and Organizing Support, listens as the Salt Lake City Council unanimously votes in favor of making the second Monday of October Indigenous Peoples Day during their regular Council Meeting in Salt Lake City Tuesday October 3, 2017. The Utah League of Native American Voters has worked with Council member Charlie Luke (District 6) to bring this resolution to a vote. If successful, Salt Lake City will join 26 other cities across the country in adopting Indigenous Peoples Day. Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is an important step towards historical truth and cultural reconciliation in this country.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is Oct. 11, and many Indigenous people know there is still much reconciliation work for Utahns to do to understand the Indigenous experience across the eight sovereign nations in the state.

This includes eliminating Columbus Day as a holiday.

While the progressive pockets of Salt Lake City support and honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October, Utah more broadly does not. That needs to change immediately, say Diné organizer and activist Denae Shanidiin, of Restoring Ancestral Winds (RAW), and Paiute Indian Tribe of Utah Chairwoman Corrina Bow.

On the same day both Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument were restored via proclamation, President Joe Biden also signed a federal proclamation to designate each Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

“Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge and tradition across the generations,” Biden said in the proclamation. “On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the federal government’s trust and treaty obligations to tribal nations.”

Shanidiin’s group RAW seeks to end violence — physical, sexual, spiritual and mental — across Utah’s eight Indigenous communities.

“The next step to honoring Indigenous people is to abolish Columbus Day, a day symbolic in white supremacy, unapologetically celebrating the history of a mass murderer, rapist and slaver of Indigenous people,” said Shanidiin, adding that Utah’s celebration of Pioneer Day in July also does not tell the true history of how Mormon settlers and their colonization across Utah is equivalent to Columbus Day.

Bow, who serves as her people’s leader, added it is important for Utah to recognize native people in the state as Nung’wu, or The People, who lived here long before white settlers arrived.

“We must not forget those who fought for this day,” Bow said. “I asked an elder what does Indigenous Peoples’ Day means to you and she said every day is Indigenous Day. Yes, she is right. We are taught as children that every day you wake up is a gift and you must celebrate life.”

As a Diné person leading the state’s highest office in the Utah Division of Indian Affairs, Dustin Jansen, executive director, notes Utah has an opportunity to formally recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. More than a dozen states do so.

“The state has not substituted Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” Jansen said. “There have been attempts to formally recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but those attempts haven’t been successful.”

Instead of honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day today, Utah will recognize it on Nov. 12 in a proposed proclamation, Jansen said. The month of November is also Native American Heritage Month.