Oregon is celebrating its first-ever Indigenous Peoples’ Day Monday, a day intended to recognize and honor the contributions that Indigenous and Native peoples have made to the state’s history and culture.
Oregon lawmakers approved the move earlier this year by wide margins. The effort was led by the state’s only Native American or Indigenous legislators: Rep. Tawna Sanchez, D-North/NE Portland, and Rep. Teresa Alonso Leon, D-Woodburn.
For Sanchez, Alonso Leon and many of their colleagues, shifting the conversation around how Oregonians celebrate the second Monday in October is about much more than just a calendar note.
“This is a celebration of the many cultures and contributions of Indigenous peoples to this state, and a commitment to ensuring the truth is told and history is not erased or whitewashed as it has been in the past,” Alonso Leon said.
That truth includes recognizing the many “heinous crimes against humanity” committed by Christopher Columbus, the namesake of Columbus Day, for which the day was known in Oregon up until this year.
As a member of the Purepecha community — an Indigenous people of the Mexican state of Michoacan — Alonso Leon said she felt a strong connection to the idea of helping Oregon transition its celebration of Columbus to a day that recognizes the impacts colonialism had on those cultures who predate America as we know it.
“Passing this bill gives us an opportunity to rethink how we celebrate our state and national history to formally observe Indigenous Peoples Day,” Alonso Leon said on the House floor back in April. “For the Native people of this country, Columbus Day has long been hurtful. It negatively impacts those who are Indigenous, and glorifies the violent history of 500-plus years of colonial oppression.”
Sanchez said she views Indigenous Peoples’ Day as an advancement of previous work by her and her colleagues to get some of the state’s tribal history into the history books used by Oregon teachers.
“What we learn in history, there’s songs about it, right? In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and blah blah blah blah,” Sanchez said. “Who wrote that history? Who laid that out? … One of things we do really well in this country is covering up the rough stuff. We cover up the stuff that was oppressive and racist, and we don’t recognize the damage that was done, obviously mostly to Indigenous populations.”
Sanchez said that efforts such as the move to create Indigenous Peoples’ Day are all about shifting perspective to shine a light on the harm done by years and years of observing history from only one side.
“The majority of folks don’t learn about true Native American history until they go to college. And we need to get that to be a little bit different,” she said. “We need to have people understanding that at a younger age, and understanding their own implicit bias.”
Sanchez said that while she understands elected officials can’t legislate anti-racism or anti-oppression, they can provide opportunities for people to learn for themselves and invest in their own knowledge of the world and the many nuances of the history that come with it.
She sees Indigenous Peoples’ Day as one of those opportunities.
“It’s going to take time for people to start to understand that what was written in those books is not true, in its entirety,” Sanchez said. “We need to recognize the innate value of who each individual human being is in how we move forward in the world, recognizing those values and appreciating them rather than ignoring them.”
Ways to mark the day
Celebrations of Native and Indigenous history and cultures will take place throughout the state Monday as Oregon recognizes its first official Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Here’s a list of a few ways you can get involved and learn more about those who called this land “home” since time immemorial:
Eugene: Museum of Cultural and Natural History (1680 East 15th Ave.). Free admission all day to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday, where 14,000 years of Native culture in Oregon will be featured.
Portland: Virtual event hosted by the Portland Indigenous Marketplace on Monday, from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. The Marketplace will partner with the Great Spirit Church to offer a day of events to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Clackamas County: Virtual Indigenous Peoples Day Celebration on Tuesday, Oct.12. Webinar event hosted by Clackamas County and Clackamas Community College, in collaboration with the Confederated Tribes of Grand Ronde and local Indigenous community members.
Bend: Central Oregon Community College at the Coats Campus Center. Events all day on Monday, from 9 a.m. to 6:30 p.m.
Corvallis: Oregon State University event from 5 p.m. to 6 p.m. on Monday.