Indigenous Peoples' Day 2021

Learn this Holiday's History and How to Celebrate

October 5, 2021
Native American Dancers

Dancers celebrate at the 49th annual United Tribes Pow Wow in Bismark, ND, in 2018.

Pierre Jean Durieu/Shutterstock

In many parts of the United States, Indigenous Peoples’ Day occurs on the second Monday in October. In 2021, it is observed on Monday, October 11. What is Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Why is it celebrated on the same day as Columbus Day? Here is a bit more information about the holiday and its history. 

What Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day honors the histories, cultures, and perspectives of Indigenous peoples and their ancestors who lived on the land now known as North America. They existed in these areas thousands of years before the first European explorers arrived. 

When Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated annually on the second Monday in October. In 2021, it will be observed on Monday, October 11.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day Dates

Year Indigenous Peoples’ Day
2021 Monday, October 11
2022 Monday, October 10
2023 Monday, October 9
2024 Monday, October 14

Canadians observe a similar holiday, National Indigenous Peoples Day, on June 21 each year.

A Brief History of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Dr. Arthur Caswell Parker, a member of the Seneca Nation, was the director of the Rochester Museum of Arts and Science (now the Rochester Museum & Science Center) from 1924 to 1945 and an early proponent of establishing a day to honor Indigenous peoples. He convinced the Boy Scouts of America to observe a day for “First Americans” from 1912 to 1915. 

In 1914, Rev. Red Fox James, now presumed to be a member of the Blackfeet Nation, campaigned for a national holiday to honor Indigenous peoples, traveling more than 4,000 miles on horseback to seek support from state governors. On December 14, 1915, he presented endorsements from 24 governors to President Woodrow Wilson at the White House. 

Also in 1915, the president of the American Indian Association declared “American Indian Day” on the second Saturday of May each year. One of the first states to officially proclaim this observance was New York, on May 13, 1916. Other states celebrated on the fourth Friday in September.

In 1977, during the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, an “International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas,” to be observed on October 12, was proposed as a national holiday.

In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to replace Columbus Day (second Monday in October) with Native Americans’ Day as an official state holiday. 

In 1992, Berkeley, California, became the first city to officially observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This coincided with the 500th anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s arrival in the Americas in 1492. 

Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day a Federal Holiday?

While Indigenous Peoples’ Day remains a nonfederal holiday, a growing list of state and local governments have acknowledged it in some form, including those of Alabama (American Indian Heritage Day), Alaska, California, Hawaii (Discoverers’ Day, to honor Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands), Idaho, Iowa, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota (Native Americans’ Day), Texas (Indigenous Peoples’ Week), Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin, among others. 

Where Indigenous Peoples’ Day is officially acknowledged, it is often celebrated in place of or alongside Columbus Day. This is in recognition of the disease, genocide, and slavery brought to the Americas through the interactions of Columbus and other European explorers with Indigenous peoples. In addition, the arrival of European explorers and settlers also meant that Indigenous peoples increasingly lost access to their ancestral lands and natural resources, which greatly impacted their ability to practice aspects of their cultures and traditions. 

"Cherokee Farming and Animal Husbandry" at the Post Office, by Olga Mohr
Cherokee Farming and Animal Husbandry“  by Olga Mohr—a mural at the Post Office in Stilwell, Oklahoma.

How to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day

  • Learn more about the land on which you live and the history of its Indigenous peoples. 
    If you’re unfamiliar with the Indigenous peoples who live or have lived in your area, there are plenty of online tools available to help you to easily learn more. A good place to start is this map that outlines an approximation of the Indigenous territories in North America. 
     
  • Attend an Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebration.
    Check locally to see if there are any celebrations that you can attend in person. There are also numerous opportunities to experience the cultures and perspectives of Indigenous peoples online, including virtual powwows, workshops, and podcasts. 
     
  • Learn about native plants and their traditional uses.
    Plants that are native to a particular area or region support healthy ecosystems and habitats for insects, birds, and other wildlife. Indigenous peoples’ traditional gardening techniques—such as the well-known Three Sisters method—were used to cultivate native plants for medicine and food. 
     
  • Visit a museum that recognizes Indigenous history.
    There are a number of museums across North America that include or focus on the perspectives, history, and/or art of Indigenous peoples. Some of these include the National Museum of the American Indian (Washington, DC; New York City, NY), Burke Museum (Seattle, WA), Sen. John Heinz History Center (Pittsburgh, PA), The Journey Museum and Learning Center (Rapid City, SD), Heard Museum (Phoenix, AZ) and the Museum of Native American History (Bentonville, AR), among others. 

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