Columbus Day was first enacted in 1892, soon after a mass lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans. It became a national holiday in 1934 to celebrate the Italian explorer, and was a way for Italian Americans to enter the mainstream after years of discrimination.
Columbus famously landed in the Caribbean Islands in 1492, never touching U.S. soil, and on his first day there, he mislabeled the native people as “Indians.” Since then, Native Americans and indigenous people have had 500 years of oppression at the hands of European explorers, like Columbus.
“Many people are not aware of the history of Christopher Columbus conquest nor the history of Indigenous People of the west,” said Lethaniel Loley, Native American Student Services Coordinator. “For 527 years, we as Native American people were forgotten in the history books, and taught not to share what knowledge we had in the past.”
That’s why this holiday is a difficult one for many, and why Idaho State University is celebrating its first ever Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day for celebration,” said Loley. “We have international students from all over the place that are indigenous to their country, too. So, we wanted to invite them and share their experiences, their culture, their traditions and their values, too.”
The celebration was encouraged by ISU President Kevin Satterlee.
“Indigenous Day is a day for everyone to understand and celebrate the rich cultures we have right here in Pocatello and Southeast Idaho,” said Randy’L Teton, Shoshone Bannock Tribes public affairs manager. “Our renewed relationship with President Satterlee marks a new beginning for the shared history and culture.”
The day began with a sunrise ceremony and later included cultural performances led by a drum circle.
People who attended the events enjoyed learning more about different cultures.
“I feel very grateful and fortunate that I could be here. You see all the dancers and the drum circle, and you feel immersed. You meet wonderful new people that you’ve never met before and you can get to know and find out, ‘Hey, what’s your background, what’s your story?'” said Veronica Garcia, a staff member at ISU.
“Besides the fact that it elevates the culture and promotes unity among the people involved, it helps other people who are not part of (the culture) to learn more about it, and I think that is fun,” said Kingsley Ikedinma, an ISU communication student.
Panels and workshops were held to discuss indigenous peoples’ contributions to the world and what it means to be indigenous.
The term “indigenous” describes groups originating or historically connected to a place prior to its colonization-settlement by an outside group. Idaho State’s Indigenous Peoples Day highlights the global diversity of indigenous peoples, experiences and needs while focusing on building relationships with local communities, according to a press release.
“I’m grateful that we as indigenous people can be recognized today in today’s society, and that we can host events like this and have people come experience our culture and traditions and values,” Loley said.