‘A joyous day, but a time of remembrance’: The first Indigenous Peoples Day in Minneapolis

“It’s a good day to be indigenous in Minneapolis,” said teacher/attorney/activist Carly Bad Heart Bull to a crowd of about 500 Monday evening at the Minneapolis American Indian Center, where people of all ethnicities and backgrounds came to bury Columbus Day and celebrate the first Indigenous Peoples Day, as voted on by the Minneapolis City Council and recently lampooned by the likes of Last Week Tonight’s John Oliver (“Columbus Day: How Is That Still A Thing?”) and comedian Chris Rock, who cracked, “Nobody celebrates Columbus Day. Nobody puts three ships in their front yard. First of all Columbus discovered the West Indies and second of all, the land he discovered had occupants on it. That’s like discovering someone’s backyard.”  

Columbus Day started in 1892, became a federal holiday in 1934, and Berkeley, California was the first American city to reject it and embrace Indigenous Peoples Day. Today, 16 states don’t recognize Columbus Day; Minneapolis and Seattle are the biggest cities in the United States to adopt the change, and in her address to the chatty crowd, Bad Heart Bull wryly noted that St. Paul “still celebrates Columbus Day.”

In Minneapolis, Monday’s program made for a cautiously joyous event (“It’s a joyous day, but it’s a time of remembrance of what really happened,” longtime native rights activist and American Indian Movement co-founder Clyde Bellecourt told Minnpost Monday) that included food, dancing, and speeches by mayor Betsy Hodges, Rep. Keith Ellison and Sen. Al Franken, and native elders Bellecourt and Winona LaDuke, who gave impassioned quasi-victory speeches that mapped out ongoing injustices in the native community, from the unimpeded rape of the land and water by oil companies in Minnesota and beyond, to the blatant racism of the Washington football team’s name and logo.  

All told, it was a reserved celebration compared to what future Indigenous Peoples Day celebrations surely promise, though the simmering optimism and electricity over this small but big win in the culture wars in a cozy gym and community center on Franklin Avenue yesterday was palpable, and made for an historic, if long overdue, moment of sweet revolution. In words and photos:

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Emmanuel Ortiz, Minneapolis, sporting local designer Ashleigh Fairbanks’ “Racists Redskins” T-shirt. “It’s a symbolic victory, but it’s a victory nonetheless. Today is a recapturing of history, which has been so wrongly told, particularly in a city like Minneapolis, which has such a large native population. I think it’s a real morale booster and a real power shift. People actually feel like they can be heard.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Deanna Beaulieu, Eloise Funmaker, Kaina Martinez, Minneapolis. “In years past (on Columbus Day) I thought, ‘He did not discover America, we were already here,’ and I never celebrated it. Whenever that day came around, I just thought about every wrong thing that he’s done and other people have done to the native people. Today is just a great day,” said Funmaker. “We always thought he didn’t discover anything, and why don’t we have our own day? Today is a great day,” said Martinez. “Today is a day to celebrate our heritage and culture and take the name back and celebrate the positives instead of the negatives that are part of the native community,” said Beaulieu.

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Clyde Bellecourt, Minneapolis: “Today we start rewriting history and the truth of what Columbus was: the greatest pirate that ever lived. Since he landed here, virtually millions have lost their lives. Whole tribes have been totally decimated, and there’s nothing in the school history books about that. Perhaps with the designation of Indigenous Peoples Day they’ll start rewriting that history. Indian people are more than what they’ve been made out to be, heathens and savages. It’s time to rewrite that history.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Winona LaDuke, White Earth. “I feel liberated. I mean, I always feel pretty liberated, let’s go with that, but it’s like this is an acknowledgement that we’re liberated here [in Minneapolis]. It’s funny, because I just came from Colorado, and those cats legalized hemp, legalized marijuana, ride around on their bikes, have all these microbreweries and organic food, and they still have that effin’ Columbus Day. Columbus is a really heavy thing to carry around for 500 years. Time to let it go. Our resistance, our resilience, and the fact that 500 years later empire is no longer sustainable means it’s time to come into the next plan. We’re good.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Faye Crowghost, Minneapolis. “I’m enrolled in the Standing Rock Sioux tribe in North and South Dakota and I’ve lived here for the last 14 years and I’m very proud to say that today is one of the biggest celebrations of my life. 2014 is a very great year for us, starting right here in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and I’m very proud of that. I have a 7-year-old son and I’m happy that he’s going to recognize that in the future. He and all his generation have a lot to look forward to.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

David Huckfelt and Michael Rossetto, Minneapolis. “I’ve been a resident in Minneapolis for 10 years, and I’ve lived in this neighborhood for the last three or four years, and I fully support changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day,” said Huckfelt. “Minneapolis has a got an incredibly unique history with the founding of the American Indian Movement here, and I’m glad it started here and it’s catching on with other cities and states. Getting a little older and reading Howard Zinn and asking questions, it doesn’t take too long to find out that there’s something amiss about what happened when Columbus landed on this continent.”  

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

George McCauley, South St. Paul. “I belong to the Omaha tribe of Nebraska. It’s an historic day because the truth is finally being told and people are finally knowing what they read in the history books is all made up. People are finally seeing what is real and the Indian people are still here, and still proud, and still surviving. What I would like to see for future generations and for today is to see Indian people as human beings. We are not mascots. Our children, my grandchildren, are people who come from a proud race and nation and they need to know and hear that this is what we are, not the Washington Redskins and not the Atlanta Braves. We’re true Native American people, indigenous of this time.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Mary Anne Quiroz, St. Paul (far left, with baby), with the Kalpulli Yaocenoxtli dance group.  “Our group represents the Mexica-Azteca nation of Mexico, and we’re here in support of our northern brothers and sisters, trying to honor this day with a dance we call ‘Tletl,’ which is the fire dance.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Gwe Gasco, Margaret Campbell, Will Sayers, White Earth. “I started my day by picking up the sons of my boss at Honor The Earth (Winona LaDuke), who are being home-schooled, because in the Detroit Lakes public school system, where they were going, today the curriculum would have been learning about Columbus and how Columbus discovered America,” said Campbell. “And for them to speak their truth as 14-year-old Ojibwe men, that’s a moment of growing up, when you’re confronting your teachers and authority figures who won’t hear you out. That’s what they didn’t experience today, because that’s what they’ve experienced every day in public school. They’re here today to finish off their home school assignment, which is to experience the first-ever Indigenous Peoples Day and hear speakers talking about the importance and responsibility that comes with being indigenous and fighting the people who want to put pipelines through the wild rice beds of Northern Minnesota.”

MinnPost photo by Jim Walsh

Charlie Thayer, Minneapolis and White Earth. “Today is a celebration of who we are as people, and we haven’t had the opportunity to have a day specifically for that celebration of native people. It’s important for us, today, and for the next seven generations – who we look out for, who we as native people are responsible for – to have this day as a day to celebrate.” 

Comments (9)

  1. Submitted by Ron Gotzman on 10/14/2014 - 10:14 am.

    Politically correct spin and more Spin

    Reading the article and comments provides an interesting “spin” on history. If the history books are all wrong on Columbus, equal scrutiny needs to be applied to this article to some of the propaganda mentioned in the comments.

    Either way – why all the “hate speech?”

    • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 10/14/2014 - 11:15 am.

      What propaganda?

      That native Americans are humans too?

      Further, where is the “hate speech”?

    • Submitted by jason myron on 10/14/2014 - 03:55 pm.

      Would you like to read some real “hate speech?”

      take a gander at the comments section in the Strib on this story. All of the hate is coming from the right…as usual. I’m beyond tired of people that have their outrage meter set at 11, especially regarding a day that 99.9% of the population doesn’t even remember until they look in their mailbox and wonder why nothing’s there. Perhaps you’ll enlighten us as to what exactly is “propaganda” in this piece?

      • Submitted by Eric Snyder on 10/14/2014 - 08:04 pm.

        I took your suggestion…

        Random fantasy grievances pop up: “I live in Minneapolis and am a moderate Democrat, who gets increasingly disgusted at the more and more leftward tilt of our city’s politicians.  Anyone but whites are good say our politicians, and Christianity is bad;”

        -This is crazy. No one has said that “anyone but white are good.” No one has said that “Christianity is bad.” These are paranoid inventions, but the writer is likely completely unaware of that.

        Another commenter: “Because liberals are open to every religion except Christianity. That’s the only one they get all bent out of shape over (and I’m not a Christian).”

        -Almost impossibly ignorant, but there it is.

        And then: “Parking meters will never be truly free while controlled by the tyranny that is the government of the city of Minneapolis.”

        -Who knew that fascism/communism has taken over the city of Minneapolis? Fight for your freedumb folks!

        There’s no end.

        • Submitted by jason myron on 10/14/2014 - 09:56 pm.

          My favorite

          was the comment about the meters…because when I think of tyranny, I think of pumping a quarter into a machine every twenty minutes.

  2. Submitted by jody rooney on 10/14/2014 - 02:22 pm.

    I’m not seeing hate speech either.

    Is anything that doesn’t affirm white male superiority considered hate speech?

    Besides we in Minnesota always knew Lief Erickson landed on the North American Content well be fore Columbus. Then of course there is St. Brenden and his mad monks.

    But be that as it may: I believe the true first inhabitants some might say first discoverers (I don’t believe we have found any pre homo sapiens here) came here much, much earlier.

    • Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 10/15/2014 - 08:27 pm.

      Leif Erickson

      So why isn’t Leif Erickson and his band of rowdies subject to the same criticism that Christopher Columbus is? It is debatable that Columbus actually reached what is now the US yet advocates of Leif Erickson and his pillagers claim he did reach it 400 years prior. Let’s give him equal time.

  3. Submitted by Ilya Gutman on 10/14/2014 - 08:44 pm.

    The difference

    Why is it an issue whether Columbus came here first or not? Whoever came here before him did not affect the western civilization and his coming did – that is the difference. So this holiday was a Western heritage holiday and now it is not. Is this what those fighting for this change want or they do not realize this?

  4. Submitted by Pavel Yankovic on 10/15/2014 - 04:41 pm.

    Many cultures…

    have been conquered throughout history. Why the fuss over Columbus Day?

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