The second Monday of October is dedicated to celebrating the thriving culture and value of Indigenous people in the past, present, and future. We honor the Bitterroot Salish, Pend d’Oreille, Kootenai, Blackfeet, Chippewa Cree, Little Shell Chippewa, Assiniboine, A’aninin, Fort Peck Dakota/Nakota/Lakota, Northern Cheyenne, Crow, and other Tribal nations who have stewarded these lands since time immemorial.
Many of us celebrate this day as Indigenous Peoples Day, which moves beyond the narrative of oppression and honors the histories, cultures, contributions, and resilience of contemporary Native peoples. Uniquely among states, Montana has acknowledged and encouraged the true history of this land through the Montana State Constitution, Article 10 – which declares that “the State recognizes the distinct and unique cultural heritage of the American Indians and is committed in its educational goals to the preservation of their cultural integrity.” Yet the State of Montana continues to dishonors this history by continuing to observe a holiday that celebrates dominion over and the attempted erasure of Indigenous peoples.
Continuing to recognize Columbus Day diminishes the genocide committed against Indigenous communities and mocks the continuing efforts of Indigenous people to overcome the legacy of colonization. Despite Christopher Colombus’s legacy of violence and dishonesty, Indigenous people across Montana continue to carry on traditions, embody resilience, and contribute to the progress and development of our state. We have a responsibility to honor this strength by officially establishing Indigenous People’s Day in Montana. In our schools, in our workplaces, and everywhere else throughout this land- this day is Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Tribes in Montana along with some lawmakers have been fighting to establish Indigenous Peoples Day for a number of legislative sessions. During this past legislative session, Senate Bill 146 was introduced by Sen. Shane Morigeau (D) of Missoula. This bill would have removed Columbus Day and establish Indigenous People’s Day. Many tribes, advocates, and organizations—including the ACLU of Montana -- testified in support of this bill. However, Senate Bill 146 along with the previous bills introduced were unsuccessful in passing, as many legislators still celebrate the violence towards Indigenous people and the false history of this state and country.
Recently, President Biden proclaimed that the second Monday of October would be known as Indigenous Peoples Day. However, while it is a step in the right direction this would not replace Columbus Day – Congress would have to pass a bill to make it a national holiday and to remove Columbus Day.
Currently, 14 states and more than 130 cities across the U.S. have officially begun honoring Indigenous People’s Day out of respect for the sacrifices and strength of Indigenous people. Montana has a responsibility to do the same. This year, we join the four cities in Montana celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day --Bozeman, Harlem, Helena, and Missoula and call for the widespread recognition of this day.
It is time that Montana steps up and creates a truly inclusive state that acknowledges its true history and supports and uplifts the first people of this nation.