Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2015 Celebration Speech

On October 12th, 2015, Seattle came together to celebrate our second annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This year, we came back to honor the community, and fight for the unanimously passage of a groundbreaking resolution to condemn the horrific United States Indian Boarding School Policy, which was in effect from 1869 to the 1960s. For more, see my speech from the ceremony below. 

It really is an honor to be able to celebrate with you on this first anniversary of Seattle’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and it was an honor last year to be able to sponsor this resolution.

We have to be clear, this resolution — just as we made clear last year — this Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a recognition of Indigenous people, but it is also a correction of revisionist history. It is a rejection of Columbus Day.

Many generations of young Americans have unfortunately in school learned a fictionalized version of history that idealizes mass murderers like Columbus and ignores the genocide of an entire continent and teaches – implicitly — racism where some people’s humanity is deemed less meaningful than others. And this racism and the historical context has ongoing consequences on poverty and inequality and the actual lives of our indigenous sisters and brothers today. And by declaring Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it was a symbolic opportunity for us to begin a real fightback to stop this marginalization and move towards equality.

This year, I think, we are defining the tradition of what this holiday can mean to us. Either Indigenous Peoples’ Day can become a day when politicians can pretend that they care, one day out of the year with empty rhetoric, or it can be a day of struggle where every year we continue to score new victories for Seattle’s indigenous communities. But that’s our choice.

We have the power to decide what Indigenous Peoples’ Day will be going forward. And we know we have a lot still left to fight for. We know we have to fight for systemic racial, economic, gender, and environmental justice. Let this day be a reminder for us that we still have that systemic struggle ahead of us. And what are we doing today in that, to build that tradition?

At two o’clock at Full Council, I’m going to be presenting another resolution from you which will acknowledge the horrors that were perpetrated through the United States Boarding School Policy.

Organizers here will tell you that nothing of this celebration today was automatic.

Organizers had to fight to have a march as part of the celebration today.

There has even been talk of an Italian Heritage Month, which we support, but not as a backdoor to bring back Columbus Day.

And we had to fight to bring forward the boarding school resolution as part of this program, in this room. Through the boarding school resolution we are saying that genocide not only includes killing people en mass – it also includes attempting to eradicate a people’s culture and that was integral to the boarding school policy. So my dear sisters and brothers, every year on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, let us use the celebrations to continue the struggle, and let us start discussing today what do we want to fight for from now until Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2016?

I thank you for all your courage. I urge you all to join me in the fight for affordable housing and to address the racial inequities in Seattle public schools and to tax the wealthy so that we can fully fund our schools.

Among everybody here, I particularly want to thank Matt Remle. Matt has been the unstoppable force that drove both the Indigenous Peoples’ Day resolution and today’s boarding schools resolution to success, and I thank him.

I also wanted to share with you the story behind this necklace that I’m wearing. Last year Matt gave this to me on my birthday because it has a symbol of warriors from his community, and I took it to mean that it was a gift from one warrior to another. I am really thankful that Ms. LaDuke is here to join us in the celebrations, and I thank her for all her work preceding our work here.

Let’s keep moving forward.


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