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What Indigenous Peoples' Day means to Native Americans

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

It's a historic day. Today marks the first time Indigenous Peoples' Day will be observed across this country. This year, President Joe Biden made it official, proclaiming the day a federal holiday shared with Columbus Day. For Dr. Susan Faircloth, today is much more than just the Monday of a three-day weekend.

SUSAN FAIRCLOTH: It's critically important for me that Indigenous Peoples' Day not just be treated as a day off.

A MARTINEZ, HOST:

Faircloth is director of the School of Education at Colorado State University, and she's a member of the Coharie Tribe of North Carolina.

FAIRCLOTH: For me, as an Indigenous person, the President's proclamation is critically important in that President Biden noted specifically the sovereignty of Native nations.

MARTIN: The proclamation walks a line - still acknowledging Columbus Day and the contribution of Italian Americans in shaping this country, but in it, President Biden also recognizes the atrocities committed against Native people by Americans of European descent, specifically as the proclamation describes a, quote, "centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation and terror."

FAIRCLOTH: I think that in doing so, he speaks to the ability for both of those histories and for both of those groups to exist and to be acknowledged simultaneously.

MARTINEZ: There are more than 600 different state and federally recognized Native tribes across the United States. Indigenous Peoples' Day has been recognized for more than three decades but only in 12 states and Washington D.C. Dr. Faircloth says today offers an opportunity for educators to rethink how they approach American history.

FAIRCLOTH: When we teach about Indigenous peoples or Native American peoples, we tend to teach about us as being in the past. So we tend to be relegated to something that happened hundreds of years ago or decades ago. And it creates the appearance that Native peoples are no longer here.

MARTIN: Faircloth says no matter how you decide to mark this holiday, it's important to take some time to celebrate the past and present lives of Native Americans.

FAIRCLOTH: We are the original peoples of this land, and that should never be forgotten, that we should never be forgotten.

(SOUNDBITE OF BREMER/MCCOY'S "DAGGRY") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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