Indigenous Peoples Day

The Unitarian Universalist faith calls us to fully understand the legacy of Christopher Columbus, just as it calls us to respect and learn from indigenous peoples and support their struggles for social justice and religious freedom. Join Unitarian Universalists across the United States in honoring Indigenous Peoples Day.

History of the Holiday

"Indigenous Peoples Day" reimagines Columbus Day and changes a celebration of colonialism into an opportunity to reveal historical truths about the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas, to organize against current injustices, and to celebrate indigenous resistance.

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was born in 1977, at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Geneva, Switzerland, on discrimination against indigenous populations in the Americas. Fourteen years later, activists in Berkeley, CA, convinced the Berkeley City Council to declare October 12 a "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People." Henceforth, there has been a growing movement to appropriate "Columbus Day" as "Indigenous People's Day"; states such as South Dakota, Hawai’i, and Alaska have changed the holiday’s name and many more cities have taken similar action. Read more about the history of Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples Day.

Ten Ways to Honor Indigenous Peoples Day

  1. Craft a Sunday service around Indigenous Peoples Day. As you plan your service, invite those within your congregation who are Native people to participate in the planning and the service itself. Work to find out the pre- and postcolonial history of the land you are worshipping on and the Native peoples who have lived there.
  2. Build and strengthen connections to nearby Native communities. Make plans to attend an event hosted by a Native group, organization, or cultural center. Find out how your congregation can be of assistance regarding the issues nearby groups are working on or struggling with.
  3. Study the Doctrine of Discovery and work to eliminate its effects. At the 2012 General Assembly, Unitarian Universalists passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery and calling for study of the doctrine and elimination of its presence from the current-day policies, programs, theologies, and structures of Unitarian Universalism. Study and discuss the Doctrine of Discovery in your congregation and take action on the 2012 resolution.
  4. Take action to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples Day.” South Dakota, Alabama, and Hawaii have renamed Columbus Day. Other states (New Mexico, for one) have come close. Use the web to discover if anyone has tried to change the holiday in your city or state, and form a congregational task force to start or join the movement. Check out Denver’s Transform Columbus Day Alliance for more info and resources.
  5. Provide age-appropriate education on Native lives and cultures as part of your congregation’s religious education programming. Take active steps to counter the dominant message that Native peoples are history by offering examples of present-day American Indian life, art, etc. Check out the books Through Indian Eyes and A Broken Flute. Go further by creating a task force to find out what your children learn about Columbus in school. You can use Lies My Teacher Told Me and Rethinking Columbus to evaluate textbooks and offer suggestions.
  6. Hold a movie screening with a discussion afterward. There are a plethora of films that can generate rich discussion. Check out VisionMaker Video, a video catalog by Native American Public Telecommunications of films by and about Native folks (see, for example, the film Columbus Day Legacy).
  7. Host a congregation-wide common read and book discussion. Possible titles include An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, A Little Matter of Genocide by Ward Churchill, Off the Reservation by Paula Gunn Allen, Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown, Reinventing the Enemy's Language edited by Joy Harjo and Gloria Bird, The Woman Who Watches Over the World by Linda Hogan, and Soul Work edited by Marjorie Bowens-Wheatley and Nancy Palmer Jones. Support Native booksellers such as the North American Native Authors Catalog. You can also find books on the particular tribes in your area—check out this listing of books by tribe from Native Languages of the Americas. For more reading suggestions, visit Bringing the Doctrine of Discovery Back Home.
  8. Engage with “Immigration as a Moral Issue. Indigenous peoples of Central America are a big part of today’s desperate wave of migration to the United States. Find out how the United States has continued Columbus’s violent legacy of colonialism against Central American peoples. Check out the study guide from Multicultural Growth & Witness.
  9. Begin Building the World We Dream About, a transformational Tapestry of Faith curriculum on race and ethnicity. This program allows participants to take concrete steps to heal, individually and as a congregation, the ways in which racism separates us from one another and spiritually stifles each of us.
  10. Take action for the rights and needs of Native peoples! Visit the What Can Unitarian Universalists Do? and Congregational Stories: Building Relationships for Indigenous Rights pages for ways to take your celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day outside the congregational walls.

More Resources

Unitarian Universalist Association Grounding

The Unitarian Universalist Association (UUA) has passed many resolutions on Native peoples' rights since the 1970s. In 1993, the General Assembly passed a resolution on Justice for Indigenous Peoples, where the UUA resolved to learn from indigenous peoples about the richness of their cultures and about the problems and issues they face, support local indigenous peoples' political action committees in their struggles for social justice and religious freedom, and act individually and through coalitions to respect and support indigenous peoples in preserving their cultural pride and heritage and in protecting their natural resources.

In 2007, the General Assembly passed a resolution on Truth, Repair, and Reconciliation, where the UUA resolved to uncover our links and complicity with the genocide of native peoples and with all types of racial, ethnic, and cultural oppression, past and present, toward the goal of accountability through acknowledgment, apology, repair, and reconciliation.

In 2012, the General Assembly passed a resolution repudiating the Doctrine of Discovery, where the UUA resolved to expose the historical reality and impact of the Doctrine and eliminate its presence in the contemporary policies, programs, theologies, and structures of Unitarian Universalism; to invite indigenous partners to a process of Honor and Healing (often called Truth and Reconciliation); and to call on the United States to fully implement the standards of the U.N. Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples in the U.S. law and policy without qualifications.

To more fully recognize these and our many other resolutions on the rights of Native peoples, Unitarian Universalist staff and headquarters now recognize Indigenous Peoples Day as an official holiday in place of Columbus Day—as suggested by George Tinker in his chapter in the book Soul Work.

cover of All the Real Indians Died Off and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans

All the Real Indians Died Off" and 20 Other Myths about Native Americans by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz and Dina Gilio-Whitaker (Beacon, 2016) deconstructs persistent myths about American Indians, many of them rooted in narratives of erasure and disappearance. Organized in short chapters, one for each myth, the book is both revealing and accessible.

Purchase at inSpirit: UU Book and Gift Shop.

Book Cover for An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States

Reconsider Columbus Day