“What Does Indigenous Peoples’ Day Mean to Me?” As Told By Staff at ACLU Montana

There is a growing movement across the United States that is based in truth and action. To date, more than 130 cities—and even President Biden by proclamation—have made the switch to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and not the other guy. Together, we are choosing to honor the original people of these lands, and not the person who perpetrated that genocide. Everyday, but especially the second Monday of October, we celebrate the vibrancy, knowledge, and lifeways of Indigenous people across these lands.  

Furthermore, we reject the romanticized tales of Columbus “sailing the ocean blue” and instead share in a fuller and accurate picture regarding our history. We refuse to exalt Columbus for his “discovery” and instead denounce his outright heinous actions toward Indigenous people in the name of colonialism.  

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. We celebrate and uplift 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 called these lands home since time immemorial.  

The ACLU of Montana joins these Tribal Nations and Indigenous peoples’ in Montana in calling for the recognition of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. We applaud the four cities celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day—Bozeman, Harlem, Helena, and Missoula and call for the widespread recognition of this day. We ask you to join in the movement to officially establish Indigenous People’s Day through the state legislature. Sen. Shane Morigeau (D) of Missoula has led this effort for years now, and we call on legislators to pass this important legislation in the upcoming 2023 session.  

There are so many ways you can celebrate this day and support Indigenous people while doing so! See reflections below on what Indigenous Peoples’ Day means to staff at the ACLU of Montana: 

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day, feels part of a larger process to remind others that we existed long before on these lands, that we still exist today, and will continue to into the future. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not only a rejection of Christopher Columbus, the myths and exploits of his life, but a celebration of our many cultures, religious and spiritual practices, and relationships with each other, the land, water, and spirits. Our existence and this day signal that we are still here.” Keegan Medrano ACLU of Montana policy director 

“Indigenous People’s Day is an opportunity to reclaim history. Rather than celebrating colonization and the violence that persists today as a result, we can set a new standard for future generations recognizing the Indigenous peoples, cultures, and natural world that has existed since time immemorial. It is an opportunity for this country to face its true history rather than glorify lies.” Alyssa Kelly, ACLU of Montana donor engagement manager 

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to honor and acknowledge my neighbors and their ancestors whose land I live and play on. It’s another day to talk with my kids about what I have learned from Native people sharing their experiences. We will talk about racism and disproportionate barriers and impacts. We will talk about culture including things like pow-wows and jingle dresses, storytelling traditions, and humor.” Michelle Cares, ACLU of Montana operations manager 

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to reflect upon the history of colonization and occupation that is at the foundation of this country.  It is a day to interrogate whether that shaky foundation is capable of supporting our present institutions and, if not, what actions we need to take at the individual and collective levels to rebuild in a sustainable way.  Finally, it is a day to recognize the vitality and vibrance of Indigenous cultures and communities across the continent, and to listen to and lift up those voices that embrace Indigenous ways of teaching and knowing.” Alex Rate, ACLU of Montana legal director 

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a moment to seize attention to the history of colonization and current inequities (structural and interpersonal) that exist for Indigenous siblings in the United States. It’s a day to be increasingly proud that more and more communities across the country are evolving their thinking and renaming the day in honor of our first peoples, rather than a colonizer who pillaged, extracted resources, and murdered his way in the misnamed, romanticized notion of “exploration.” An opportunity to be intentional as a white parent to make sure I’m sharing values and education with my daughter in ways that my education fell short. A gift to learn more myself and celebrate Indigenous community members.” Kileen Marshall, ACLU of Montana philanthropy and strategic initiatives director 

"Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and every day, is about acknowledging, honoring and celebrating the rich history, culture and resilience of Indigenous people, the country’s original inhabitants. A day to continue to reflect and educate oneself on the true, dark history of this country, and colonizers destructive impact on Indigenous people and communities. I will spend time talking and discussing with my children the aforementioned, however, will be prepared to push back on any inaccurate information that their school may teach them.” Krystel Pickens, ACLU of Montana paralegal 

"To me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day for non-Indigenous people like me to learn - and never forget - the true history of this nation: the fact that our “land of the free” was built on genocide, colonization, and removal, on violence and forced separation of families. A reminder that the land I love, here in Montana, is the land – lovingly stewarded since time immemorial – of Tribal peoples. It is a day to honor the resilience and strength of those Tribal peoples in preserving and practicing their culture, traditions, and languages, despite the brutal attempts to erase them. It is through Indigenous peoples’ efforts that we now honor and celebrate these things on this of all days, when the country saw fit to honor one of the perpetrators of this sordid and shameful history.” Caitlin Borgmann, ACLU of Montana executive director 

"To me, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a reminder of the importance of preserving culture and remaining vigilant in the fight against those structures, peoples, and ideas that aim to keep white supremacy culture as the dominate and domineering force in the world. It reminds me that white supremacy is predicated on making all brown people believe that we are inferior and that we must buy into colonial values of constant output and capitalism to have value or currency. 

It is a reminder that we must reject those narratives that are not our own. It is a reminder that celebration, joy, and recognition of personal and community worthiness are imperative and necessary elements in the continued fight to retain sovereignty- while fighting against the ever-present attempts at erasure.  It reminds me that indigenous culture persists, even as it evolves. That it is a robust, vibrant, and unconquerable culture.  As my wife says, “preserving Indian culture means that we do not engage in deficit-based thinking. We trust our blood memory and our entirety.” Akilah Lane, ACLU of Montana staff attorney 

“I practiced almost exclusively in Confederated Salish & Kootenai Tribal Court during the first few years of my legal career. On the first day, the Chief Judge generously shared practice advice and the expectation that all attorneys and advocates recognize that they were appearing in the court of a sovereign nation. This meant that all attorneys were to honor and follow the CSKT Constitution, statutes, and case law, and to challenge the institutions that seek to oppress Indigenous power.  On Indigenous People’s Day I plan to reflect upon that lesson, celebrate Indigenous communities, and redouble my efforts to reject institutions and leaders who seek to erode tribal sovereignty.” Robin Turner, ACLU of Montana contract lobbyist