ST PAUL, Minn. — It was a day to celebrate resilience. A day to pay homage to the sacrifices of elders that allowed Native American people to survive genocide to tell the stories of their cultural traditions.
In Minnesota's largest cities this second Monday in October was Indigenous Peoples' Day. Governor Walz also declared Oct. 11 as Indigenous People's Day in Minnesota.
It's still known as Columbus Day in most places, and that's how it appears on the federal holiday calendar. But it's not hard to find those who believe there should be national holiday honoring America's first humans.
"I don't think we have another holiday specifically for native people. Some might say, 'Hey, you've got Thanksgiving.' But that's more of a colonist story that includes Native people," John Bobolink, who heads the American Indian Education program at Saint Paul Public Schools, told KARE.
Bobolink emceed a ceremony Monday in front of district headquarters where staff, students and Native American community leaders planted a traditional healing pole. Bobolink said the pole was originally meant to help mend spirits battered by the COVID pandemic, but by the time Indigenous Peoples' Day rolled around Native communities were also dealing with the trauma of children's graves being unearthed at Indian Boarding Schools.
One of the fabric banners attached to the healing pole was orange, symbolizing the victims of boarding schools that strove to strip children of their culture and language.
Dominic Good Buffalo, a Saint Paul Schools family outreach coordinator, said the boarding school experience is something that reverberates through generations.
"In my family I’m not coming that far from a boarding school situation with my mother. She went to one as a child. That trauma experience leaks to us whether we’re conscious of it or not," Good Buffalo explained.
"Having this day, having the families come together, having the district staff and leadership is one of the greatest things for our students and families to see."
Minneapolis, Saint Paul and Mankato relabeled Columbus Day to honor the people who lived in the Western Hemisphere before Europeans arrived. But there’s currently no legislation pending create a permanent statewide holiday.
Caley Coyne, a Harding High School student who helped decorate and plant the healing pole, said it was a great feeling being surrounded by Native men and women at the ceremony.
"I think it’s important to learn, to spread our history. It just means we are still here," Caley explained.
"We haven’t lost our language. We haven’t lost our culture. We haven’t lost our tradition. So, we can still continue to practice and learn our ways."
The healing pole will remain where it is for now, near the entrance to Saint Paul School District main offices.
"I'm glad it's there. For our district staff I hope it’s a daily reminder of the commitments they’ve made for the care of our Indian children."
The fate of the Christopher Columbus statue that stood on the Minnesota State Capitol grounds from 1931 until 2020 is yet to be decided. The Capitol Area Architecture and Planning Board is in the midst of a two-year review process to create new guidelines for how to handle removal of outdoor monuments.
Lt. Gov. Peggy Flanagan, the first Native American person elected to a statewide office in Minnesota, chairs the CAAP Board. She's opposed to the idea of restoring the statue to its pedestal, but first wanted to create a formal, transparent process for deliberating removal of monuments.
The statue was dragged off its pedestal June 10, 2020 during a period of civil unrest following the murder of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer. American Indian Movement activist Michael Forcia, who led demonstrators in the raid on the statue, was sentenced to 100 hours of community service after taking part in a series of court-authorized circle meetings.
The statue, which was recovered immediately by state troopers, remains in storage in a secure, undisclosed location.