Letter to the Editor: Working toward Indigenous Peoples’ Day during this Season of Resistance

By Christine Nobiss

A few days ago I had a conversation with my son’s first grade teacher. I’ve had this same conversation every year for five years now — through daycare, preschool and, now, elementary school, all here in Iowa City. This conversation, usually held in September, is my attempt to shelter him from settler mythologies about Native Americans. These mythologies, grounded in certain holidays and classroom history books, are an attempt to hide the unpleasant truths about this country’s past, an attempt to whitewash history. Thus, the conversation I have every year with my son’s teachers is a direct attempt at making sure they rethink what they’ve been taught and what they intend to pass on.

There are three “holidays” in particular that make this false representation particularity blatant: Columbus Day, Halloween and Thanksgiving. From the second Monday of October to the fourth Thursday in November, Native Americans are hammered with a barrage of racially offensive, culturally inappropriate and historically inaccurate inculcations. The list is extensive — Columbus day parades and speeches and sales, sexy Halloween costumes, Pilgrim and Indian paraphernalia, and of course all the classroom activity that our kids are subject to. For instance, even after having “the conversation” with his preschool teacher, I was horrified to come upon a chart of Thanksgiving terms and pictures like arrow, tipi, axe and an Indian. Indigenous people on the east coast didn’t live in tipis and I could write a book about that cute little representation of an Indian.

Let that last little paragraph suffice to quickly explain why I call this time of year: the Season of Resistance. A time when many of us Natives stand tall, walk proud and do our best to educate people about the authentic history of this country; about Columbus, appropriate Halloween attire and the realities of Thanksgiving.

Columbus was an atrocious person, who did not discover America and whose crimes against humanity are too numerous to list here. Thus, Native Americans have been fighting to put an end to this holiday for decades. Our protests of Columbus Day parades and monuments have not gone unnoticed and, finally, in the last couple years, some cities have reexamined basic truths and are now in agreement with Indigenous people of this continent. Cities like Albuquerque, N.M.; Portland, Ore.; St. Paul, Minn. and Oklahoma City, Okla. have opted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Also, there are a few state Democratic parties that are currently working on resolutions in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Iowa’s being one of them.

Recently, the State Central Committee of the Iowa Democratic Party passed a resolution that ceases to recognize Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Hopefully, in the future we will see the Democratic party enact legislation on this resolution. In Iowa City, the University of Iowa Native American Student Association (NASA) usually holds an Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration and education session on campus. This year, the event will be held on Oct. 10 at noon, in conjunction with a NoDAPL rally. While we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, NASA, the University of Iowa Environmental Coalition (UIEC), local environmental activists (100 Grannies, Mississippi Solidarity Network, etc.), Native professors, administrators and NASA alumni like myself will also stand with water protectors everywhere trying to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. This movement, which is part of a larger environmental struggle, is also historically linked to Native American sovereignty and the colonization of this land. So please show your support for authentic histories, Indigenous sovereignty, clean water and a better future by joining us at this event.

This article was originally published in Little Village issue 207.