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Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2022 a federal holiday? In which states is it observed as a holiday?

30 years after it was first celebrated, President Biden proclaimed Indigenous Peoples’ Day a national holiday to be celebrated alongside Columbus Day.

A person reacts as people sing during programming for the National Day for Truth and Reconciliation, honouring the lost children and survivors of Indigenous residential schools, at Niagara Parks Power Station, Ontario, Canada.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day was started as an alternative to Columbus Day, to bring recognition to native peoples’ histories and stories. The holiday in 1992 on the 500th anniversary of the arrival in the Americas of Christopher Columbus and a flotilla of Spanish explorers.

Last year, President Joe Biden made the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day giving the holiday celebrated in cities and states across the US an increased national spotlight. However, the proclamation doesn’t make it a federal holiday, that would require Congress to pass legislation cementing the day in the US calendar of federally recognized holidays.

Only four states and a territory recognise the day as a regional holiday. These are: the District of Columbia, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, and South Dakota. As Indigenous Peoples’ Day falls on Columbus Day then the day is still free to celebrare however people wish.

A brief history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with a holiday for first inhabitants of the Americas was first presented in 1977 by participants at the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. Ahead of the 100th anniversary of the of Wounded Knee Massacre, where US soldiers killed around 300 Lakota people, the governor of South Dakota responded to calls from Tim Giago, a Native American publisher, and asked the state’s legislature to proclaim 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation” between Native Americans and whites. Lawmakers voted unanimously for the proposal and South Dakota became the first state to do away with Columbus Day and replace it with Native American Day.

As celebrations were being organized in the San Francisco Bay Area for the “Quincentennial Jubilee” of the landing of Christopher Columbus in what is now the Bahamas, a group called Resistance 500 made plans for a counter-celebration. The group convinced the Berkeley City Council to replace the 12 October Columbus Day with the Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People in 1992. The unanimous vote made Berkeley the first city to do away with celebrating the troubled history of the explorer/colonizer and instead celebrate Native Americans and is generally credited with starting Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Celebration of Indigenous Peoples spreads

Although Columbus Day celebrates Italian heritage as well as the Genovese-born explorer’s discovery of the Americas on 12 October 1492, the history of harm and suffering that befell the inhabitants of the lands colonized created ever louder calls to change the focus of the holiday. Over the years this movement has gained momentum to where now well over a hundred cities recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day to focus on the contributions and history of Native peoples.

More states have followed South Dakota over the years with nearly a score celebrating only Indigenous Peoples’ Day or in conjunction with Columbus Day. They include the District of Columbia along with the states of Alabama, Alaska, Arizona, Hawai’i, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, Vermont, Virginia, Wisconsin.