Two years after Moscow became the first Idaho city to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, Gov. Brad Little followed suit Monday with a statewide proclamation of his own.
Unlike Little’s proclamation, Moscow’s resolution established the day as an annual event replacing Columbus Day — but only within city limits. It would take an act of Idaho legislature to establish Indigenous Peoples Day as a recurring holiday in place of Columbus Day.
Moscow Human Rights Commission Chairman Ken Faunce, whose group recommended the city make the change, said Moscow’s replacing Columbus Day sends a stronger message than merely establishing Indigenous Peoples Day simultaneously, as the state has done.
“The big thing about Columbus Day is it’s a real symbol of genocide and conquest and slavery and all of that — so for American Indians, it’s kind of like a slap in the face,” Faunce said Monday evening in Moscow’s Friendship Square. “By replacing it, then you’re recognizing ... there were wrongs done and we want to move forward.”
Faunce said while it may seem like a tiny step in the right direction, he is hopeful that Moscow’s resolution and Little’s proclamation are symbolic of a movement that is gathering in strength.
“While it’s one step, eventually maybe the whole nation will get rid of the (Columbus) federal holiday and the federal holiday will be Indigenous Peoples Day,” Faunce said.
In an Indigenous Peoples Day event earlier Monday on the University of Idaho campus, graduate student and member of the Yakama Nation Mary James said the narrative surrounding Columbus as an intrepid explorer and discoverer of nations is a myth. She said to the indigenous peoples of the Americas, Columbus’s 1492 landfall, now memorialized as a federal holiday marks the beginning of a very different historical narrative.
“It was the beginning of genocide, it was the beginning of smallpox, continued slavery, racism (and) boarding schools, but it’s so much more than that today,” James said. “Today we celebrate the indigenous populations all over the world; we celebrate our time and our survival … removing Columbus Day is not about erasing history, it’s about correcting something that was always a problem.”
Steven Martin, director of the UI’s TRIO-INSPIRE McNair program and member of the Muscogee Nation, said he’s “not one to rally behind what we call Indigenous People’s Day.” While he acknowledged that redesignating Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day may take some of the power out of the former, he said the gesture is difficult to reconcile with centuries of slaughter, exploitation and reeducation.
“You’re giving us a day to acknowledge who we are? Well, thank you very much. Why don’t you give us our lives back? Why don’t you give us our land back? Why don’t you give us our language back?” Martin said. “Our culture — that’s what we want, not a day.”
Scott Jackson can be reached at (208) 883-4636, or by email to firstname.lastname@example.org.