By issuing a proclamation to designate Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, President Joe Biden became the first president to commemorate the holiday created to acknowledge the Natives who lived in this country prior to Christopher Columbus’ arrival. President Biden released two separate statements on Friday (Oct. 8), proclaiming the second Monday of October as both Indigenous People’s Day and Columbus Day.
“Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations,” Biden wrote in the Indigenous Peoples’ Day proclamation. “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. 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.”
“For generations, federal policies systematically sought to assimilate and displace Native people and eradicate Native cultures,” he continued. “Today, we recognize Indigenous peoples’ resilience and strength as well as the immeasurable positive impact that they have made on every aspect of American society.”
Within his proclamation on Columbus Day, Biden noted that Columbus’ legacy continues through millions of Italian Americans who “enrich our country’s traditions and culture and make lasting contributions to our Nation.”
“Today, we also acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities. 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,” he wrote. “Let this day be one of reflection — on America’s spirit of exploration, on the courage and contributions of Italian Americans throughout the generations, on the dignity and resilience of Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities, and on the work that remains ahead of us to fulfill the promise of our Nation for all.”
The U.S. began celebrating Columbus Day as an official federal holiday in 1971, after President Lyndon B. Johnson signed legislation in 1968 to designate the second Monday of October as Columbus Day. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is currently observed by 14 states, plus Washington D.C. and over 100 cities across the country.