The White House announced on Friday that for the first time ever, the US will recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to be observed next week on the same day as Christopher Columbus Day, which celebrates the arrival of Europeans in America.
It is the first such proclamation by a US president, although some individual states observe days to honor Native Americans, and America’s neighbor, Canada, has recognized National Indigenous Peoples Day for decades.
While praising the contributions of Indigenous peoples in America, Biden said in a statement, “We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation and terror wrought up Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country.”
The federal government’s efforts to kill or contain Native Americans is the stuff of legend and horror in American history, and the Biden Administration has taken steps to address that. Biden’s choice for Interior Secretary, Deb Haaland, is the highest-ranking Native American in presidential administration history, and she has made it a priority to identify mass gravesites of Native American children who were taken from their families in an effort to white-wash their culture.
“Today , we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society,” Biden said.
Indigenous Peoples Day will fall on Monday, Oct. 11, the same day as the annual Columbus Day holiday, which was established by Congress. In a separate statement regarding Columbus Day, Biden praised the contribution of Italian Americans but he also referenced the violence and harm Columbus and other explorers brought to America.
“It is a measure of our greatness as a Nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past – that we face them honestly, we bring them to light and we do all we can to address them.”
Biden’s remarks are a stark departure from his predecessor, Donald Trump who, as President, decried “radical activists” of trying to undermine Columbus’ legacy “with talk of his failings, his discoveries with atrocities and his achievements with transgressions.”
After the George Floyd murder in 2020 sparked racial unrest, activists across the country started demanding statues honoring Christopher Columbus be taken down. In Chicago, violence broke out at one of those statues and the city removed three of them. Italian American activists are still trying to get them re-installed.