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Biden issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day on Friday, giving the biggest boost to date in efforts to refocus the federal holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus towards an appreciation of Indigenous peoples.
The day will be celebrated on October 11, as well as Columbus Day, which is established by Congress. As Native Americans have campaigned for years for local and national days in recognition of the country’s indigenous peoples, Biden’s announcement seemed to surprise many.
“It was completely unexpected. Even though we’ve been talking about it and wanting it for so long, ”said Hillary Kempenich, artist and member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa. In 2019, she and other tribesmen successfully campaigned for her hometown of Grand Forks, North Dakota, to replace Columbus Day with a Day of Recognition for Indigenous Peoples.
“I’m a bit overwhelmed with joy,” Kempenich said. She was waiting Friday afternoon for her eighth-grade daughter, who grew up defying teachers’ portrayals of Columbus, to come home from school so Kempenich could share the news.
“For generations, federal policies have systematically sought to assimilate and displace Indigenous peoples and eradicate Indigenous cultures,” Biden wrote in the proclamation of Indigenous Peoples Day. “Today, we recognize the resilience and strength of Indigenous peoples and the immeasurable positive impact they have had on all aspects of American society.”