Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Biden becomes 1st president to issue proclamation

Joe Biden is the 46th president, but he’s the first one in the country’s 245-year history to issue a proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The proclamation, marking Monday, Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples Day, intentionally coincides with Columbus Day. It does not raise Indigenous People’s Day to federal holiday status, but it does continue the trend of reevaluating historical figures whose legacies have fallen out of favor.

Christopher Columbus was an Italian explorer who sailed to the Americas under Spain in 1492. He’s often credited with discovering the Americas, though he never stepped foot on the North American continent.

Instead, he enslaved native populations in Caribbean islands, stole natural resources, ruled through violence and introduced diseases that devastated natives, according to the History Channel. His arrival, and the atrocities that followed, look eerily similar to what many other European sailors did throughout the Age of Exploration.

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Many state and local governments have opted to shift attention away from Columbus each year — choosing instead to honor indigenous people. With a stroke of his pen, Biden ushered the federal government in that same direction on Friday.

"Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to," Biden said in the proclamation. "That is especially true when it comes to upholding the rights and dignity of the Indigenous people who were here long before colonization of the Americas began."

Biden acknowledged the harm the United States has historically caused Native Americans. He said federal policies "systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures."

Biden committed to building a new, brighter future of promise and equity for tribal nations while recognizing Native Americans’ contributions to the nation as public servants, troops, entrepreneurs, scholars, artists and more.

"On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today," Biden said. "I encourage everyone to celebrate and recognize the many Indigenous communities and cultures that make up our great country."

By joint resolution of April 30, 1934, and modified in 1968 (36 U.S.C. 107), Congress asks the sitting president to proclaim each second Monday of October as Columbus Day. Biden continued the tradition, but offered no praise for Columbus.

Instead, he praised the millions of Italian Americans who "continue to enrich our country’s traditions and culture and make lasting contributions to our Nation."

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"They are educators, health care workers, scientists, first responders, military," Biden said.

He also used the Columbus Day proclamation to acknowledge the atrocities committed by European explorers. 

"Today, we also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities," Biden said in the Columbus Day proclamation. "It is a measure of our greatness as a Nation that we do not seek to bury these shameful episodes of our past — that we face them honestly, we bring them to the light, and we do all we can to address them."

This story was reported from Atlanta.