While much of the rest of the country is celebrating Columbus Day today, in South Dakota the state government, schools and citizens are recognizing a different holiday: Native Americans’ Day.
South Dakota is the only state in the country to celebrate today devoted to Native Americans rather than the Italian navigator Christopher Columbus — and it’s done so for a long time.
Why does South Dakota celebrate Native Americans’ Day instead of Columbus Day?
Part of it is demographic. Much of the impetus from Columbus Day comes from Italian-Americans, which are not among the biggest ethnic groups in South Dakota. Native Americans are close to 10 percent of South Dakota’s population.
It also stems back to a decision by Gov. George Mickelson in the late 1980s to seek “reconciliation” between Natives and whites after historically bad relations. Mickelson asked the Legislature to declare 1990 a “Year of Reconciliation” and to rename Columbus Day as Native Americans’ Day. The measure passed unanimously.
Meanwhile other cities and areas are starting to slowly follow South Dakota. Minneapolis, Los Angeles and Seattle are both celebrating today as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Hawaii celebrates “Discoverers’ Day,” commemorating the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by ancient Polynesians.
Others have advocated for changing Columbus Day into a more generic “Exploration Day.”
In California, Native American Day is an official state holiday on the fourth Friday in September. In Tennessee, American Indian Day is the fourth Monday in September.
Cities are starting to join suit. Columbus, Ohio, named after the explorer, will not observe the holiday. City offices instead will be closed on Veterans Day in November, though a spokesperson said the decision was not spurred by movements to replace the holiday with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Other cities are scrapping Columbus Day.