Governor Bill Walker declared last week that Columbus Day is now known in the State of Alaska as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Over 16 percent of Alaska’s population is indigenous, more than any other state.
Walker signed the proclamation which states, “The State opposes racism toward indigenous peoples of Alaska or any Alaskan of any origin and promotes policies and practices that reflect the experiences of indigenous peoples, ensure greater access and opportunity, and honor our nation’s indigenous roots, history, and contributions.”
Alaska Natives across the state are excited about the recognition.
“It makes me feel so happy. It’s one of the best things that happened this year. It’s great that they changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Day,” Mathias Suskuk, an Alaska Native living in New Stuyahok said. “Assirtuq,” which means “it’s good” in his native tongue of Yupik.
Recognizing the significance of the holiday name change, Dalee Dorough, UAA political science professor specializing in the study of indigenous people, believes more can be done to honor the endurance of the indigenous people of the Americas.
“Indeed, it is significant that the state has chosen to shine the spotlight on Indigenous peoples, including Alaska Natives, rather than glorifying the cumulative and horrific impacts of so-called “discovery” of the Americas by Columbus,” Dorough said. “However, more significant, there is a necessity to go beyond an Indigenous Peoples Day by substantively recognizing and respecting the distinct status, rights, and concerns of Alaska Native peoples… When we are able to fully exercise and enjoy our distinct rights, I’m certain that real, heartfelt celebrations throughout our communities will begin.”
Others credit Columbus with the good he did, but commend the change as a positive change.
“He came over and he brought all the things over that he did, but at the same time he took a lot away from the natives. I think it’s actually a good thing,” Lexi Trainer, an Alaska Native student, said.
The idea was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native Nations as a counter-holiday to celebrate Native American culture and people.
This proclamation is trending in a growing number of cities and states across the nation. The second Monday in October known as Columbus Day has been changed to Indigenous People’s day in Phoenix, AZ, Boulder, Denver and Durango, CO, Evanston, IL, Cambridge, MA, Ann Arbor and East Lansing, MI,Cook County and Two Harbors, MN, Lincoln, NE, Sante Fe, NM, Eugene, OR and Spokane, WA in the last 12 months.
The proclamation, the second of its kind in the state of Alaska does not allow for the holiday to be a permanent change, but allows for the holiday to be recognized that year. An act of legislation is required to make a holiday permanent.