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How to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day at work

Indigenous Peoples' Day employee engagement activities
A primer on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and how creative DEIB teams can honor this observance in the workplace.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States commemorates the resilience and contributions of Native communities.

Here, you’ll learn the importance of this observance, along with practical ways to honor it with your employees.

The history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

"In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” is a popular rhyme used to help schoolchildren remember when Christopher Columbus first landed in the Bahamas.

While Columbus’ voyages were historically significant, the actions of his crew and future explorers led to the devastation of native populations. Researchers estimate that within a century of European arrival, 52 million people perished.

Despite such horrors, Americans have been celebrating Columbus’ legacy since 1934, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt designated Columbus Day as a national holiday, observed on the second Monday in October.

For decades, many Native groups advocated against Columbus Day celebrations due to the violence European explorers wrought on Indigenous communities.

South Dakota became the first state to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1990.

Thanks to advocacy groups, public pressure, and an increased recognition of the rich diversity of Native cultures and contributions, in 2021 President Biden issued a proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day to “honor the sovereignty, resilience, and immense contributions that Native Americans have made to the world.”

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated on the second Monday in October in the United States.

Benefits of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the workplace

Incorporating Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrations into your diversity, equity, inclusivity, and belonging (DEIB) strategy is an important way for social impact professionals to enhance their DEIB programming.

According to the 2020 U.S. Census, 2.9% of the population identifies as “American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN)” — 9.7 million people. Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day gives voice and visibility to the millions of Americans who identify as AIAN and enables Native employees to feel seen and valued. It also provides an opportunity for your entire team to learn about and honor the diversity, rich histories, and ongoing contributions of Indigenous groups in the communities where your employees live and work.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also an opportunity to recognize the ongoing struggle that many Native communities experience due to centuries of injustice. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day serves as a reminder of the diversity and depth of Native peoples, and how hard we’ve had to work for recognition and visibility,” explains Crystal Echo Hawk, a member of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma and CEO of the social justice organization IllumiNative, to CNN.

Ways to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the workplace

There are many ways to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Day with your employees.

Integrally, it’s vital for corporate social responsibility managers and social impact leaders to plan celebrations that involve and directly support Native communities because historically, Indigenous groups have been vulnerable to misrepresentation in nearly all facets of society, from popular media to politics.

Whether you choose to commemorate this holiday by learning about Native art or understanding the ongoing struggle to protect ancestral land, representatives from Native communities must be a part of the conversation.

1. Learn about land acknowledgement

Land acknowledgement is a way for organizations, governments, individuals, and communities to recognize and respect the traditional ties Indigenous people have to certain regions, and the ongoing relationship that exists between Indigenous groups and their traditional territories.

Land acknowledgement doesn’t solely exist in the past. Indigenous land rights are an ongoing topic that requires present-day support and participation.

However, simply acknowledging ancestral land isn’t enough, and when done wrong, it can even have negative consequences. Be sure to learn about land acknowledgement from a Native-led nonprofit and create an action plan to meaningfully support Native members of your community.

2. Volunteer for a nonprofit that supports a local Indigenous community

Explore hands-on volunteering opportunities that benefit Indigenous communities by partnering with a nonprofit that’s dedicated to serving local needs.

Nonprofits are experts in understanding the true needs of a community, and they can enable your team to make a powerful impact.

3. Learn history from Indigenous community members

Most U.S. history is taught from the perspective of those with European ancestry, omitting crucial facts about what really happened to Indigenous groups during the westward expansion. Learning history from the perspective of Native peoples can offer a different lens of important historical events.

Be sure to explore Native-led learning opportunities to ensure that Indigenous people have the opportunity to tell their unique story.

4. Explore the diversity of Indigenous art

Indigenous contributions to art cannot be understated. From traditional art forms such as weaving and silversmithing to contemporary mediums, art can reflect a culture’s stories, values, religions, individual and collective perspectives, and more.

Interested in learning more about supporting Indigenous communities with your team? Schedule a demo with a member of the team!


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