Olympia’s first Indigenous Peoples Day honored the ancestors who settled this land long before Christopher Columbus arrived in what would be America.
Hundreds of people attended Monday’s celebration at Sylvester Park, including representatives from several local tribes. The scent of sage was in the air alongside the sounds of traditional drumming and spiritual songs.
Olympia is among a handful of U.S. cities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October, a federal holiday that long has honored Columbus.
For many Native Americans, Columbus Day is synonymous with violence, genocide, slavery and brutal exploitation of their people by European conquerors. One poster on Sylvester Park’s gazebo summed up that feeling Monday: “Stop insulting the ancestors’ souls. Speak the truth. Abolish Columbus Day.”
Farron McCloud Sr., chairman of the Nisqually Tribal Council, spoke of the suffering that Native Americans endured as they were forced to assimilate into the white settlers’ world while abandoning their ancient culture and traditions.
McCloud also praised the legacies of Chief Leschi and civil rights icon Billy Frank Jr. — two men who fought to protect the rights and land of the Nisqually people and beyond.
“We have our spirituality, our culture and our pride as Native Americans,” he told the crowd. “We’re not going anywhere. We’ll be here forever.”
Among those in attendance was state Sen. John McCoy, D-Tulalip and a member of the Tulalip Nation. McCoy successfully pushed for legislation that requires Washington public schools to teach tribal history. Washington and Montana are the only two states with such laws on the books.
“We need to educate people on what we in Indian country would say is the real history — the good, the bad and the ugly,” McCoy told The Olympian. “We have to teach the history correctly.”
McCoy hopes the Indigenous Peoples Day movement continues to spread across the country, exposing the atrocities associated with the arrival of European settlers in the Americas.
“The old adage says that if you don’t teach history, you’re doomed to repeat it, so let’s not repeat it,” McCoy said. “We want to correct the record.”