Several hours ago, I had learned that the President of the United States, President Joe Biden, has declared October 11, 2021 as Indigenous Peoples Day for the first time in history, along with restoring protections of Bears Ears, Grand Staircase-Escalante, and Northeast Canyons and Seamounts. Ecstatically I shared the news, while at the same time, there was a mix of emotions. Columbus Day, or also known as Discovery Day, has not been repealed. And though this news is met with joy, there is yet still pause, because there is so much work to do. I hope in the near future, we will have those changes created to abolish Columbus Day, and to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day.
As this information came to me, processing it... I definitely hit memory lane. I immediately thought of my daughters who both have advocated for this, along with correcting how history was presented in their schools. My eldest, now a senior in high school, had voiced her concerns with educators, sharing the experiences with me as well. Her younger sister, an 8th grade student, was often listening, and absorbing that energy her sister had to be not only a voice for themselves, but for others.
I recall when my eldest was in elementary school, coming home with an "art collage project" where it was a ship in the ocean. It was for a Christopher Columbus project where they painted an ocean then, pasting a ship made of construction paper over it. When she got into our vehicle, as her little sister was buckled into her car seat, the eldest says quietly, "mama, can I throw this away?" I glance at it, and say, why do you want to throw it away. She says how she didn't like doing the project, and didn't like that people called Columbus a hero, nor did he discover what is now known as the Americas. I sighed, saddened that she was put in this position.
I thought back to my own experience in elementary school, which was on Turtle Mountain reservation, and thought how weird it was even then that we celebrated Columbus. I didn't even need history books or others to tell me the damage he caused our Indigenous peoples, although, as I got older and did my own research, it was quite horrific to know how horrible this human was. I will say my school that I attended at that time was transitioning from Catholic nuns being our educators; I do not know if that had anything to do with how history was presented to us as children. I eventually was able to transfer schools, and there was a noticeable difference. (Even then I was also advocating for my own education.) So, going back to my child, after listening to what she had to say, I carefully said that yes, if she feels that strongly, she can throw the work away. But, I didn't stop the conversation, I had stated when she is in those positions in the future, to use her voice. Don't be afraid to talk to the teachers, and if needed, seek another adult to talk to such as the principal. What I hadn't realized, was our youngest was absorbing that conversation, and learning how to also use her voice.
This had taken place as I began to pursuit my career in the arts, though, I had been doing some independent advocacy work prior to, this moment really help create a stronger development of my art work along with knowing the importance to be that squeaky wheel as some called me. I understood that my artwork can serve communities in so many ways. I believe creating artwork is therapeutic and inspirational. I was already celebrating my children in my paintings, but I began widening the audiences and expanding the conversations.
Years had gone by, our youngest was now in elementary school. From that moment where our eldest had declared her discomfort of how history was being presented, we ensured we talked to the teachers at the meet & greets. Some appreciated the conversations, asked for help, educated themselves, others, well, it would be met with resistance. When we were at a Parent Teacher Conference, we were looking through papers of our daughters... and we came across this one paper that caught my attention immediately. She had written it earlier that spring, when she was in first grade, doing an introduction of herself to her second grade teacher. I was pleasantly surprised to see what it had contained. The last statement was that she does not celebrate Columbus. I found it amazing how she held on to that conversation her sister and I had years ago, and learned how to be vocal when necessary. (This goes for a lot of experiences they both experience in schools and other spaces.
Over the years, we as a family and individuals, had many conversations with others, whether on social media, in public spaces, in our homes, with friends, families, meetings, and so on, the importance of Indigenous Visibility as well as sharing the truth of the horrors created by Columbus. Yes the conversations can be difficult, there is a lot of emotional labor along with time. I often call this seed planting, creating those conversations, giving information, sharing those ideas, and watch them grow. My artwork is often inspired by what I have observed and experienced, which often is including my daughters, and my hopes is that my artwork also inspires others to join the efforts we all are participating in. Change for the betterment of society.
This particular conversation of Indigenous Peoples Day has been taking place for so long, and I'm glad we are one small part of continuing on the conversations and acting on them to contribute to a wider effort led by hundreds, if not thousands of people collectively. I am so thankful for all those who have done their part to keep pushing this forward; and the work will continue. I think back to the people I've spoken to in addition to educators, whether they're government officials, which includes Senator Bernie Sanders and U.S. Secretary of Interior Deb Haaaland, non-profits, influencers, sincere allies, individuals, loved ones, not so loved ones (haha)- and its amazing to know how many are listening. I also think back to my former students when I worked with the Artist in the Classroom program, knowing the impact being made in those spaces as well.
Two years ago, we were finally able to have our community proclaim Indigenous Peoples Day, it was once again a joyous moment. That summer, once again, our youngest daughter bravely stood before the city council, requesting this change alongside many others. She represented not only herself, but her family, friends and community, through the inspiration of her older sister. I do want to reiterate, we are not the only ones who have put in a lot of effort in creating these changes, but I want to share a small glimpse into the work that has been done by one small family, for an incredibly long time.
And though, I am thankful for this proclamation, there is so much work to do in terms of representation and reparations for our Indigenous Peoples. So, take it in this historical milestone, but acknowledge there is so much more work to be done. (I do not mean that Indigenous people should be obligated to put in financial, emotional and spiritual labor for events on Indigenous Peoples Day unless they truly want to, as I see that we are often demanded or expected to. And I hope people do not criticize Indigenous people by assuming they aren't doing the work... I've observed this for many years, and that defeats the work we are doing.) There is room for everyone to do what they can, within their capacity, and please know that it makes changes.
Anyway, I can keep talking about this... but this mama is a bit exhausted. It's Fri-yay, time to spend time with my loved ones. Thank you everyone being inspired, and creating inspiration.