Indigenous Peoples Day
Our Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to fully understand the legacy of Christopher Columbus, just as it calls us to respect and learn from indigenous peoples and support their struggles for social justice and religious freedom. Join Unitarian Universalists across the United States in celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day.
History of the Holiday
"Indigenous Peoples Day" reimagines Columbus Day and changes a celebration of colonialism into an opportunity to reveal historical truths about the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas, to organize against current injustices, and to celebrate indigenous resistance.
The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was born in 1977, at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on discrimination against indigenous populations in the Americas.
Fourteen years later, activists in Berkeley, CA, convinced the Berkeley City Council to declare October 12 a "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People." Henceforth, there has been a growing movement to appropriate "Columbus Day" as "Indigenous People's Day"; states such as South Dakota, Hawai’i, and Alabama have changed the holiday’s name and many more cities have taken similar action. Read more about the history of Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples Day.
Ten Ways to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day
1. Craft a Sunday service around Indigenous Peoples Day. As you plan your service, invite those within your congregation who are Native people to participate in the planning and the service itself.
You might also want to check out worship planning tools from Multicultural Growth & Witness.
2. Find out whose land your congregation’s building was built on.
We are worshipping on stolen land. Who was yours stolen from? How has it changed hands since the colonization of North America? Local reference librarians, the staff at state historical societies, and professors of state history at local institutions of higher learning can quickly point to the best sources in your state or area.
3. Build and strengthen connections to nearby Native communities.
Make plans to attend an event hosted by a Native group or organization. Find out how your congregation can be of assistance regarding the issues nearby groups are working on or struggling with.
4. Take action to rename Columbus Day "Indigenous Peoples Day."
South Dakota, Alabama, and Hawaii have renamed Columbus Day. Other states (New Mexico, for one) have come close. Use the web to discover if anyone has tried to change the holiday in your city or state, and form a congregational task force to start or join the movement. Check out Denver’s Transform Columbus Day Alliance for more info and resources.
5. Provide age-appropriate education on Native lives and cultures as part of your congregation’s religious education programming. Take active steps to counter the dominant message that Native peoples are history by offering examples of present-day American Indian life, art, etc. Check out the books Through Indian Eyes and A Broken Flute. Go further by creating a task force to find out what your children learn about Columbus in school. You can use Lies My Teacher Told Me and Rethinking Columbus to evaluate textbooks and offer suggestions.
6. Hold a movie screening with a discussion afterward. There are a plethora of films that can generate rich discussion. Check out VisionMaker Video, a video catalog by Native American Public Telecommunications of films by and about Native folks (see, for example, the film Columbus Day Legacy). You can also make use of the video loan library from Multicultural Growth & Witness (look under "American Indian Issues").
7. Host a congregation-wide common read and book discussion. Just a few possible titles include A Little Matter of Genocide by Ward Churchill, Off the Reservation by Paula Gunn Allen, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, Reinventing the Enemy's Language edited by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird, The Woman Who Watches Over the World by Linda Hogan, and Soul Work edited by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and Nancy Palmer Jones. Check out (and support!) Native booksellers such as the North American Native Authors Catalog. You can also find books on the particular tribes in your area—check out this listing of books by tribe from Native Languages of the Americas.
8. Engage with "Immigration as a Moral Issue," the 2010-2014 Congregational Study/Action Issue. Indigenous peoples of Central America are a big part of today’s desperate wave of migration to the United States. Find out how the United States has continued Columbus’s violent legacy of colonialism against Central American peoples. Check out the study guide from Multicultural Growth & Witness.
9. Begin Building the World We Dream About, a transformational Tapestry of Faith curriculum on race and ethnicity. This program allows participants to take concrete steps to heal, individually and as a congregation, the ways in which racism separates us from one another and spiritually stifles each of us.
10. Take action for the rights and needs of Native peoples! Visit the Take Action web page in the Justice for Native Peoples section of our website for ways to take your celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day outside the congregational walls.