Celebration of Our True Beginnings

Celebration of Our True Beginnings

On Monday, Oct. 10, we celebrated for just the second year Indigenous Peoples Day. President Biden proclaimed the day in 2021 to “celebrate the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous people.” His proclamation issued this year added the purpose of Indigenous Peoples Day to “honor the sovereignty, resilience, and immense contributions that Native Americans have made to the world.” 

In 1977, the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas advocated for Indigenous Peoples Day to replace Columbus Day. Since then, more than a dozen states have made the change. In 2020, Governor Ralph Northam declared the second Monday in October the first Indigenous Peoples Day in Virginia, calling it an “important step in creating an inclusive, honest Commonwealth.” The state is home to 11 native tribes. 

As in Virginia, the national holiday of Columbus Day is officially recognized in most states, but a day recognizing Indigenous peoples is designated on the same day in about a dozen states. The celebration of Columbus Day came about in 1934 with a proclamation by President Franklin Roosevelt celebrating Columbus who had become a symbol of Italian American pride. The day was made an official federal holiday in 1968.

In recent years statues of Christopher Columbus have been removed because of the atrocities he committed in the lands he explored. The notion taught in schools and believed by many people that he “discovered America” has been thoroughly debunked. As one of the coordinators of the movement to have a day to celebrate Indigenous people rather than a colonizer expressed it, “We were never discovered. We’ve always been here. We’ve always had our own civilization that was different from the colonizers.” History supports their position.

According to www.science.org, the precise date for the peopling of the Americas is a long-standing open question. While there is general agreement that the Americas were first settled from Asia, the pattern of migration, its timing, and the place(s) of origin in Eurasia of the peoples who migrated to the Americas remain unclear. The timing of that migration to America varies from 15,000 to 20,000 years ago—certainly well before Columbus showed up in 1492 or the English in 1607. For too many years there has been little or no recognition of who the Indigenous people were, the civilizations they had established, their advances in agricultures and environmental protection, their form of governance, and their religions. One step in recognizing the peoples who were on this land prior to European exploration and colonization is taking place at Jamestown Settlement Museum where the coming together of the cultures of the Indigenous peoples, the English colonizers and the people they enslaved is being recognized. 

 As President Biden stated in his proclamation this year, “For centuries, Indigenous peoples were forcibly removed from ancestral lands, displaced, assimilated, and banned from worshiping or performing many sacred ceremonies. Yet today, they remain some of our greatest environmental stewards. They maintain strong religious beliefs that still feed the soul of our Nation. And they have chosen to serve in the United States Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other group. Native peoples challenge us to confront our past and do better, and their contributions to scholarship, law, the arts, public service, and more continue to guide us.” The least we can do is to celebrate our true beginnings.