Montana is one of 36 states that do not celebrate Indigenous People's Day. Not even alongside the existing federal holiday Columbus Day. Despite our rich native culture and history with the Blackfeet, Kootenai, Salish, Cree, Crow and other Nations the Treasure State still refuses to adopt it as a state holiday. Why?

If you're like me, you were among the many American schoolchildren taught that Columbus discovered America, and since the destiny of America was to extend from sea to shining sea, everybody that was here before whites with European ancestry should get out of the way. Technically both of those things were true, albeit in the absence of treating native people as human beings that mattered at all.

Columbus Day has been a federally recognized holiday since 1968, and was first celebrated in 1971.

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What About The Presidential Proclamation?

In 2021, President Biden proclaimed that every year, the 2nd Monday in October should be known as Indigenous People's Day. Proclamations are taken seriously since they come from the leader of the free world, however they are ceremonious; having little force and effect since it takes an act of Congress to establish federal policies like laws, holidays and observances (after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, which was a de facto military order, slavery was still legal in the U.S. until Congress passed the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which was then signed into law by Lincoln in 1865.)

Cities Observe It, Why Not The State?

Four Montana cities not only observe Indigenous People's Day, they encourage and support celebrations:

  • Missoula - signed into law by Mayor John Engen in 2015
  • Bozeman - established in 2022, replacing Columbus Day
  • Helena - signed into law replacing Columbus Day by Mayor Wilmot Collins in 2019
  • Harlem - established in 2019 replacing Columbus Day in 2019

Montanans have tried to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day three times this millennium. This requires an amendment to our State Constitution. The last attempt was in 2019, when State Senator Shane Morigeau of Missoula introduced Senate Bill 146however it failed to gain enough support to get out of committee for a formal floor vote.

Will It Ever Happen?

My old college radio instructor was very fond of trotting out his favorite phrase when we had questions, "The more things change, the more they change." He was right. Not all monuments are meant to stand forever, and reexamining our history through new lenses of experience can lead to change, and change can be scary. Since we don't have a crystal ball at our disposal, I can't tell you whether or not it will happen, but it seems long overdue.

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On October 10th, it would be best to keep others in mind, and remember that not everybody thinks like you do. In fact, it would be great if we could do that every day.

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