For decades, the United States has celebrated the second Monday of October as a federal holiday, an “annual reaffirmation by the American people of their faith in the future, a declaration of willingness to face with confidence the imponderables of unknown tomorrows,” according to a Senate report in 1968, the year Congress made Columbus Day a federal affair.
But in South Dakota, we are recognizing a different holiday: Native American Day.
South Dakota’s designation of Native American Day stems back to a decision by Gov. George Mickelson in the late 1980s to seek "reconciliation” between Native Americans and whites after historically bad relations. Mickelson asked the Legislature to declare 1990 a “Year of Reconciliation” and to rename Columbus Day as Native American Day. The measure passed unanimously.
South Dakota is not alone. At least eight states, 10 universities and more than 130 cities across 34 states now observe Indigenous Peoples Day as an alternative to the federally recognized Columbus Day.
Efforts to ditch Columbus Day continues to grow, thanks to the famed navigator’s increasingly problematic historical reputation.
While Christopher Columbus has been immortalized for “discovering” the New World, the term generally used to refer to the modern-day Americas, Columbus thought he’d arrived in India and named the people he found already living here “Indians.”
The name, of course, stuck. But more problematic than this misidentification was the European settlers that followed. Native Americans were first pushed out of the East and later the West. Through a series of notorious atrocities, including the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee, the United States adopted an official expansionist policy of discriminating against Native Americans in favor of encouraging white settlers in their territories. This policy led to the subjugation, oppression, and death of many Native Americans. The effects are still being felt by Native Americans.
Through honoring the history and culture of Native Americans on Oct. 14 and every day, the ACLU of South Dakota works to recognize the dishonor in our past and help to remedy the discrimination against Native Americans today.
The ACLU is committed to defending the rights of Native Americans and tribes to be free from discrimination and governmental abuse of power, whether the government be federal, state, or tribal.
The ACLU has filed important class-action lawsuits challenging discrimination against Native American families in education, voting, and the child welfare system. In particular, in 2013 the ACLU used the Indian Child Welfare Act (ICWA) to challenge pervasive discrimination and the lack of due process afforded to Native American families in emergency child custody proceedings.
Today, the ACLU of South Dakota is working to advance free speech in regards to pipeline protests, to strengthen voting accessibility to tribal communities, to promote Two Spirit inclusion, and to tackle the long-lasting epidemic of missing and murdered indigenous women and girls, among other issues.