Indigenous People’s Day is a Step Forward, But it’s Not Enough

The daughter of an Indigenous woman talks about the somber reality of this “holiday”. 

( Zayna Sheikh / Rowdy Magazine Graphic Designer)

When I was a child, I was taught that Christopher Columbus was brave. That he traveled across the ocean to do what no one before him had done. Not only was he not the first, but he was also a murder, torturer and enslaver.

My sister Stephanie remembers vividly how much my family hates Columbus. My Tio Juan hated the pilgrims and the Indians story that everyone is spoon-fed. History lessons conveniently leave out the enslavement and the abuse Europeans inflicted to gain their titles. My sister said that every Thanksgiving, Tio Juan would celebrate how thankful he was for his family while still remembering how Columbus lied, stole, destroyed and then claimed the glory.

I remember being really confused as a kid. My teachers were telling me one thing and my family was teaching me something else. But my Spanish father didn’t tolerate disobedience, so I never spoke out. 

Columbus Day is Monday, Oct. 12. People hold parades and cheer for the soldiers. But for those who truly understand history, they know that Oct. 12 is Indigenous People’s Day. As people unlearn the glorification of a colonizer and understand that Indigenous People are the ones who should be celebrated, it is a step in the right direction. However, we still have so far to go. 

The idea of reclaiming Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day was first discussed in 1977. Only in recent years have individual states made the day official. The states of Minnesota, Alaska, Maine, Louisiana, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada and Vermont celebrate Indigenous People’s Day, while South Dakota celebrates Native Americans’ Day and Hawaii celebrates Discoverers' Day. 

No, Florida isn’t one of them. I suppose it can advertise Hard Rock hotels and cheer for the Florida State Seminoles, but won’t discuss the culture they’re profiting from. 

Personally, Indigenous People’s Day is not a day for celebration. It is a day for mourning. It’s a day for remembering the lives that were taken too soon, and when I finish remembering them, my mind finds its way to the Indigenous people who are dying today. 

The third leading cause of death for Native American women under the age of 19 is murder. Native women living on reservations are 10 times more likely to be murdered than the average woman in the United States. More than 2,300 Native American women and girls are currently missing. If you’re wondering why you’ve heard nothing about this, it is because it’s not reported on or investigated nearly as much as it should be. 

According to NBC News, researchers examined 105 cases of missing and murdered Indigenous women and girls from the region between Northern California and Oregon. In the research, they found that 62% of cases were never included in any official missing persons database. Nearly three-fourths of the cases have no public documentation of death, whether charges were filed or a suspect or person of interest was found. And more than half of the cases don't mention or publicize the victim's tribal affiliation. 

Advocates have complained for decades about the lack of representation in the media and federal data on missing and murdered Native Americans. The violence they experience are usually human trafficking and sexual violence: two things that thrive when they remain unreported. 

But, the second leading cause of death in American Natives youths is suicide. Native communities experience higher rates of suicide compared to any other racial and ethnic groups in the United States. Natives continue to experience poor health and socioeconomic conditions. This creates a situation that negatively affects their physical and mental health. When combined with alienation, cultural disconnection because of gentrification and deforestation and the pressure of assimilating to American culture, Native youths are extremely depressed. 

Although I am the daughter of an Indigenous woman and am racially Native because of my features, I do not identify as Native American. There are pains I will never know. Reservations that will never be taken away from me. Privileges that I have had that Natives have to survive without. 

However, my mother prays to the spirits just like my grandfather did, just like his parents before him and so on. My sister and I will continue to pray to the spirits for peace for the Indigenous People who died before, who died today and who will continue to die if people do not protect them. 

So for this Indigenous People’s Day and all the days to come, I beg of you Sign petitions. Protest. Boycott. Vote. Educate

If you feel as though your single actions will have no real effect, I tell you this: 

"Humankind has not woven the web of life,” said Chief Seattle, Duwamish. “We are but one thread within it. Whatever we do to the web, we do to ourselves. All things are bound together. All things connect."

Helping one community, even if it is as small as five dollars or as big as joining an advocacy organization, affects all communities.

Grace Romo is Rowdy Magazine’s Copy Editor. Her Sun is in Libra, but she has an Aquarius stellium in her first house so she is internally a water bearer. When she isn’t writing poetry or taking pictures, she is listening to indie music way too loud. You can follow her on Instagram @msromoo for anti-racism tips and song recommendations.