Montana still officially celebrates October 14 as Columbus Day, but a handful of cities here have replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Some local leaders refuse to recognize a day that they say glorifies colonization and mistreatment of Native Americans. Missoula is one of those cities.
Members of the University of Montana’s Pacific Islanders Club perform an ancient Hawaiian dance meant to elicit native Hawaiian peoples’ connection to nature.
UM’s Indigenous Peoples Day observance was a vivid and colorful celebration of indigenous peoples from across North America, the Pacific Islands, Mexico as well as Central and South America
— Montana Public Radio (@mtpublicradio) October 15, 2019
UM student and university Student Diversity Coordinator Joseph Grady helped coordinate Monday’s celebration. He’s a member of the Blackfeet Tribe.
"Historically, yes, Christopher Columbus did have a hand in crossing the sea and landing on the shores around Cuba, but the message is, he didn’t discover anything."
Meaning, says Grady, "That we were self-discovered. We were already here. We numbered in the millions, literally. It’s a message to say that, yeah Columbus had his thing, but more importantly indigenous people did as well."
Grady points out that colonization has always generated plenty of deep and dark problems for indigenous people; but he adds they also have a remarkable history.
"Indigenous people for a long time and thousands of years had medicines, languages, governments and systems of interacting, ceremony and celebration as well. That’s the larger part of what we celebrate on Indigenous Peoples day. That’s why we tend to brag about it on a day like this, because it’s worth bragging about."
At least eight states have ditched Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day. Montana’s not one of them.
During the last legislative session, the state House passed a bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. That bill later died in a Senate committee. Opponents said Christopher Columbus did do harm to native people, but that he has a history worth noting.
Missoula joins Harlem, Bozeman and Helena as cities that no longer recognize Columbus Day.