Indigenous People’s Day is a day to honor and celebrate the original people and cultures of our land. Indigenous history and culture have often been excluded or misrepresented, which contributes to ongoing oppression. Indigenous People’s Day ensures that important and challenging histories are not erased. My family’s story helps me remember why this is important.
My grandparents were born on the Turtle Mountain Indian Reservation in the 1920s. Their religion was outlawed, they couldn’t be citizens, and children were taken away to attend brutal religious residential schools. They ate government rations, worked with no pay, and weren’t allowed to speak our language. They persevered and started a family together in the 1940s. They were the generation that fought for our survival.
My mom was born in Montana because of American Indian Urban Relocation. This termination policy pulled people off their reservations and moved them to far-away cities. The government hoped that Indigenous people in the cities would marry non-Indigenous people, and have children with less Indigenous blood every generation. To this day, we are required to show how much Indigenous blood we have in order to have citizenship in our tribe.
Thousands of Indigenous families in new cities had limited resources and no support networks. Discrimination, violence, low-quality health care, and depression contributed to substance abuse, mental health issues, and unemployment. Local tribes were not federally recognized and had limited resources to offer. Incarceration, homelessness, abuse, and death contributed to high numbers of children entering the foster care system. In the 1970s, my mom and other Indigenous people protested, marched, and fought for our culture, our freedom of religion, our children, and for self-determination. People from many tribes were attacked by authorities and private citizens. My mom was part of the generation that fought for our civil rights.
I was born in Seattle to an Indigenous mother and a white father. As my mother marched and had children, she took in other children. Almost fifty years later, she is still running a therapeutic Indigenous foster home. I was humbled to grow up seeing how resilient and incredible young people are in the face of abuse by people and systems. They’ve had varying life outcomes based primarily on skin color, but also by other adverse childhood experiences. Some have become community leaders, artists, and lawyers. Others didn’t make it past 15 years old. For Indigenous people, this has been happening for every generation since our land was invaded in 1492.
Today, my generation is working to prevent our history and people from being erased. We are learning languages and helping allies adopt our traditional practice of acknowledging whose land they are on. We are working for recognition that people were here long before 1492. Since 2014, the City of Seattle has recognized Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day. Recognizing and celebrating Indigenous People’s Day is one way that our generation fights for our future.
By James Lovell, Director of Development and Advancement