Amara Hena

Courtesy of Family (Amara Hena); Shutterstock.com (background)

Honoring Our Past

Why are so many cities and states celebrating a new holiday?

As You Read, Think About: Why do many people believe it’s important to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Like millions of kids, 13-year-old Amara Hena will have a day off from school on October 14. For decades, much of the country has celebrated Columbus Day on the second Monday in October. But Amara’s school in Santa Fe, New Mexico, will be closed for a different reason this year.

New Mexico—along with Vermont and Maine—joined a growing number of states and cities that have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The holiday honors the indigenous, or native, people who had been living in America long before Christopher Columbus arrived. It is also a celebration of their descendants who still live here—including Amara. She is a member of the Tesuque (tuh-SOOK) Pueblo tribe.

“This is a big deal to our people,” says Amara. “We should be celebrated and recognized.”

Allen Russell/Photolibrary/Getty Images

A member of the Sioux (soo) tribe at a ceremony in South Dakota

A Stolen Past

In 1492, Columbus set sail from Spain, a country in Europe. He was looking for a faster route to Asia, but he landed in North America by accident. He and his crew explored several islands near what is now Florida.

Though it’s sometimes said that Columbus “discovered” America, countless indigenous people had been living in nearly every area of the continent for centuries.

Columbus’s crew started what would become hundreds of years of mistreatment of Native Americans. They enslaved or killed many native people and took their land.

Indigenous people continued to suffer as more European settlers arrived. After the United States became a country, the government repeatedly broke treaties, or agreements, with tribes and took away their lands. Many Native Americans were also forced to abandon their culture, language, and way of life.

Rethinking History

Today, more than 5 million Native Americans live in the U.S. They belong to nearly 600 tribes or nations, each with its own history and heritage. But some people mistakenly think of Native Americans as one group.

That has a lot to do with the way indigenous people have been represented. Nearly all public school students in the U.S. learn about Columbus. But far fewer learn about individual tribes. 

“We were never taught about our history and culture in school,” Amara says. “And it’s important to learn about indigenous peoples so that we are not forgotten.”

Derrick Lente hopes Indigenous Peoples’ Day will help change that. He is a state representative in New Mexico who helped make the holiday official in the state.

“We can’t change or erase history,” Lente says. “But with this holiday, kids will be able to celebrate indigenous peoples in a bigger way.”

Jim McMahon/MapMan®

1. What is Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Explain its significance.

2. Why is it false to say that Columbus “discovered” America?

3. What is the purpose of the sidebar “What Amara Wants You to Know”?

Close-Reading Questions

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