SUPERIOR — Sage and tobacco smoke climbed toward city hall’s high ceilings as a crowd of 50 moved in a circle to a steady beat.
Monday’s Indigenous Peoples Day celebration in Superior was the first with the full backing of the City Council, which officially recognized the holiday in August as an increasing number of communities and states move away from Columbus Day.
“It’s time for recognition of Columbus to fade away,” said Gary Johnson, director of the First Nations Center at the University of Wisconsin Superior. “We have the right to exist and to keep doing what we’ve always done — that’s why that pipe, why this drum. But we can’t do it alone. We need to have advocates.”
Mayor Jim Paine said in his proclamation the city recognized the “painful past of colonization” and said the focus, as the name of the holiday indicates, is on the people.
“Despite a troubled history, this should still be a day of celebration,” Paine said.
Rene Ann Goodrich of Native Lives Matter took the opportunity to highlight the ongoing crisis of missing and murdered indigenous women before leading the crowd in a round dance.
Columbus Day was adopted as a federal holiday in 1937, though its popularity is waning as the explorer’s brutality becomes more widely taught. South Dakota was the first to establish Native American Day in 1989, but only in the past five years has Indigenous Peoples Day picked up official recognition among cities and states.
Last week Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers declared the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples Day. On Monday Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz did the same, continuing a practice started by his predecessor in 2016.
“The Anishinaabe and Dakota, the indigenous people who resided on this land prior to the arrival of European settlers, have experienced a history of broken promises, violence, deprivation, and disease,” read the proclamation from Walz. “This is a history that we must reconcile as we seek to build a brighter future for all Minnesotans, while striving to maintain strong government-to-government relationships and strengthen tribal sovereignty.”