Alaska Natives and friends gathered Monday at Elizabeth Peratrovich Hall in Juneau to celebrate Alaska’s first permanent Indigenous Peoples Day.
And they made it count, with traditional music, dance and plenty of frybread.
Last June, Gov. Bill Walker signed legislation that made the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples Day. Not coincidentally, that Monday is also the federal holiday Columbus Day.
Alaska is the second state to adopt the contrasting holiday.
“What an incredible, incredible state that we all live in,” Walker said Monday. “The only thing that matches it’s beauty is it’s culture, and that’s what we celebrate on this Indigenous Peoples Day, is the culture that binds this state together.”
Several states have since joined Alaska and South Dakota, as well as dozens of cities across the country.
The cultural shift has caused controversy in some places, much like the recent movement to tear down Confederate statues.
In New York City, where the nation’s largest Columbus Day parade takes place, a wreath-laying ceremony at a statue of Christopher Columbus was interrupted by protesters.
Central Council of Tlingit and Haida Indian Tribes of Alaska President Richard Peterson said he had little patience for those who fail to understand the significance of Indigenous Peoples Day.
“We’ve gotten a little bit of flack about Indigenous Peoples Day and how we’re disrespecting or not liking non-Native people because we don’t want to recognize Columbus and Columbus Day,” he said. “It’s these people who don’t know the true history and if you want to praise somebody who got lost at sea, landed on a rock and was welcomed by people and then turned around and tried to enslave, then you go on and go ahead and recognize Columbus Day, I won’t disrespect you for doing that. But I am going to recognize our indigenous people who have been here for thousands of years.”
The University of Alaska Southeast held academic and cultural events throughout the day at its three campuses. UAS Chancellor Rick Caulfield said the occasion offers important lessons for everyone.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is a perfect opportunity for all Alaskans, whether you’re from a Native cultural background or not, to learn about 10,000 years of history,” Caulfield said. “Today’s a day to learn about that for all of us and celebrate it.”
Indigenous Peoples Day is another win for Alaska Natives in recent years.
In 2014, the Alaska Legislature passed a bill making 20 Alaska Native languages official state languages.
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