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Indigenous Peoples' Day Celebration Aims To Look To The Future

Elaine Thompson
Johnny Moses, a member of the Tulalip Tribe, smiles as he speaks before a signing ceremony for a resolution designating Indigenous Peoples Day in Seattle, in 2014.

Back when Michael Tulee was in school in 1966, his teacher sent a note home asking parents to send treats to class for an upcoming Columbus Day celebration.

“And I seem to really recollect, even to this day, that my mother was upset, even back then,” said Tulee, who is executive director of the United Indians of All Tribes Foundation.

“Her exact words were ‘How can we be celebrating someone discovering Indians when we were already here? How could he actually discover America when we’ve been here for thousands of years?’”

The foundation runs the Daybreak Star Cultural Center, which is hosting celebrations on Monday for Indigenous Peoples' Day, which was first conceived in the late 1970s as a counter to Columbus Day. For many Native people and others, Christopher Columbus has represented colonialism and oppression.

“Today it’s more like, not necessarily a complete rejection, but more of a positive celebration of what we indigenous people have to offer to our society,” Tulee said.

Seattle officially adopted Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2014. Olympia followed the next year. Bainbridge Island and Spokane started celebrating it in 2016. Other cities have made it official, too: Los Angeles, Denver, Minneapolis and St. Paul, Santa Fe, Nashville, and more.

Tulee says they’re expecting hundreds to come out for celebrations at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center in Discovery Park. He says the event will be a positive affirmation of Native cultures, and will look to the future.

“We don’t want to focus mainly on the oppression and suppression and depression that’s occurred over the years, but rather where do we go from here,” he said. “That was then. How do we step forward to start empowering ourselves to make things happen even more so for our peoples, whether on tribal lands or not?”

The celebrations begin at 4 p.m. Monday, and will feature performances and a salmon dinner.

Ed Ronco is a former KNKX producer and reporter and hosted All Things Considered for seven years.