Happy Indigenous People's Day
– By Guthrie Capossela
Somewhere around 1990, I learned the phrase “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue”. At the time I had moved to Carson City, Nevada from the small community of Kenel on the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe reservation, in South Dakota. Kids were shocked that we didn’t live in tipis and that we had running water. I quickly learned things like “Indian Giver” and I remember being confused when the teacher told all of us, "to sit down Indian-style.”
A few years later we moved back to South Dakota – the state celebrates Native American Day instead of celebrating Columbus. As a child, I sort of figured everyone did this and I never linked genocide with Columbus’s arrival. It wasn’t until I read Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States that I learned the cruel details of his exploration.
Beginning in October and through Thanksgiving, there is insensitivity towards Native people and our experience. First, Indigenous People’s Day, also known as, Columbus Day, followed by Halloween, and ultimately the Thanksgiving celebration. The generic imagery, false history, and cultural appropriation that happens with all three are disheartening.
I remember working with a high school student in 2017. He told me about a student who took his picture on the bus. He asked the student why he wanted his picture. The student responded, “to send to my girlfriend to prove that Indians still exist.” This is crazy to me. In 2021, everyone should know there are 570 plus federally recognized tribes in the United States, 11 of which are in Minnesota.
We should all know where we are and the history of this place. Native history is the history of the United States. The country today would not have been possible without Native people. In my culture, we believe that everything and everyone is related. People greet each other as relatives, not just strangers. Please remember that is what my Nation believes and is different from the other 570 plus tribes with distinct languages, cultures, religions, and histories.
We work at the best health care organization in the country. It is amazing! Yet, Native American people in the areas we serve have some of the worst health disparities among historically excluded people. Indigenous People’s Day is a great day to reflect, learn, celebrate Native people, and is a good reminder for all of us to think about how we can be better relatives to one another. Tomorrow is a good day to think about what you can do in your role to help reduce health disparities for Native people.
If you’re unsure who the Native people are in your area today or the history of Native people in your area, here are a few links to help you on your learning journey: