October 12th named Indigenous Peoples Day by Governor Walker
Josh Hartman / Sun Star
On Monday, Oct. 12 the State of Alaska celebrated its first official Indigenous Peoples’ Day. From this year forward the second Monday of October, nationally recognized as Columbus
Day, will be recognized, in Alaska, as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
This executive proclamation was made by Governor Bill Walker on Oct. 9. This document also gives several reasons for making the change to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.
“The Indigenous Peoples of the lands that would later become known as Alaska have occupied these lands since time immemorial, and Alaska is built upon the homelands and communities of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the state would not be possible,” Walker wrote in the proclamation.
Sveta Yamin-Pasternak, who is a cultural anthropology professor at UAF and has had lots of experience with rural Alaskan villages, reflected on the the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day.
“I’m really glad to see the change that is so meaningful to people that I care about,” Yamin-Pasternak said. “It is seen and appreciated as a way to amend social injustice.”
Similar proclamations were signed by the Fairbanks North Star Borough School Board and Ethan Berkowitz, Mayor of Anchorage.
Alaska is one of four states that does not recognize Columbus Day; schools and offices in Alaska do not close on Columbus Day for this reason. The other states that do not officially recognize Columbus Day are Hawaii, Oregon and South Dakota.
Marvin Lake, who is a business student at UAF, supported Alaska’s non-recognition of Columbus Day.
“We don’t need to celebrate America’s first terrorist,” Lake said.
On celebrating Columbus Day, Yamin-Pasternak said that there are reasons that people celebrate and find meaning in the day.
“Some people associate it just with the curiosity and discovery and strife to experience something new to see the greater world,” Yamin-Pasternak said. “They associate it with positive values but not all of our good intentions end up delivering positive results.”
Many students, however, had not known about the change.
“I didn’t even know they changed it from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day,” Theodora Sutton, who is studying business at UAF, said. She said that she does not keep up with politics.
Columbus Day became one of 10 official federal holidays in 1937, however it was an official holiday before then in the state of Colorado in 1906. The holiday commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Bahamas in 1942.
The first city to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day was Berkeley, California in 1992. However, the first proposal of Indigenous Peoples’ day was made in 1977 by a group of Native Nations to the United Nations at the Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas.
Alaska has the highest percentage of indigenous population with over 16 percent of the state’s population being Native Alaskan.
Walker ended the proclamation with a message to the citizens of Alaska.
“I… encourage all Alaskans to celebrate the thriving cultures and values of the Indigenous Peoples of our region and to continue efforts to promote the well-being and growth of Alaska’s Indigenous community,” Walker wrote.