This year, Indigenous Peoples Day falls on Monday, October 11th. We love holidays for their built-in teaching moments, and we’re especially grateful for this one, which gives us the opportunity to explore an important and too-often overlooked piece of America’s past.
First, a little history lesson, with some help from Smithsonian Magazine. When we were kids, the second Monday of October was always celebrated as Columbus Day. You too? It began as an annual celebration to mark Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas, as well as a celebration of Italian-American culture. In 1934 President Franklin D. Roosevelt announced the first national observance of the holiday, which was later signed into law.
Many, many Native Americans felt that the designation of a holiday to honor Columbus obscured the ensuing tragedy of colonization experienced by indigenous communities across the continent. And colonization was deeply violent - indigenous communities were decimated by a combination of violence and disease, and those remaining lost access to land they had care for for thousands of years. For a nation to create a holiday honoring the ‘discovery’ of their homeland signalled a deep and ongoing disrespect.
Indigenous activists decided to do something about it, and in 1977 proposed that Columbus Day be replaced by Indigenous People’s day. Since then, a growing number of cities and states have adopted the holiday, choosing to revisit historical narratives that inaccurately depict the ‘discovery’ of the Americas from an entirely European perspective.
Does all of that sound a little bit heavy and hard to explain to a child? We get it. But if we as parents commit ourselves to facing difficult things, we’ll teach our kids that they can do the same. Fortunately, the designation of the holiday gives all of us the perfect opportunity to celebrate and explore Native American history and culture. These are some of our favorite ways to do it:
- Books! This is probably our favorite parenting hack, and we’ll keep talking about it until we’re blue in the face. Children’s books are our absolute favorite parenting tool, especially when we’re not sure we can find the right words to explain something. Our favorite children’s books by Native American authors are:
Fry Bread - a beautifully illustrated story about a diverse, intergenerational family and their relationship to a food that became a staple and symbol of resilience for Native American families.
We Are Water Protectors - a deeply inspiring story about indigenous activism and an invitation for all young people to commit to environmental justice.
Birdsong - a lyrical and lovely story about an intergenerational friendship, this award-winning book also includes a glossary and pronunciation guide to the Cree words used in the story. Learn about the land you sit on: This one might be best for slightly older kids, but it’s also one of the coolest.
- Visit the website www.native-land.ca and enter your address to find out what Indigenous land you live on. Explore links to the tribes provided to learn more about the native history of where you live. Look up how to pronounce the tribal name, and practice with each other.
- Visit an Indigenous People’s Day event - either live or online! One of the largest events in the country will be taking place on Randall’s Island in New York City, but there are many events across the U.S. Many will be hosted online, including this one, focused on Indigenous youth activism hosted by the National Museum of the American Indian.
Of course, these are just some of the ways we are looking forward to spending this day with our kiddos - what about you? For more ideas of ways to connect with your children about ideas and issues that matter, be sure to follow us on Instagram and subscribe to our newsletter. Looking for ways to solidify these interests? Budding environmentalists will appreciate our National Parks, Demand Clean Air, and Renewable Energy tees and onesies - and remember, 10% of our proceeds are donated to youth-led progressive non-profit, Fridays for Future.