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'Iolani School Indigenous Peoples' Day: IPD Background

Slideshow and infographic by
Amanda Christie, 'Iolani School English Faculty
Indigenous Peoples' Day Committee

History & Background

Why Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day?

Originally, Columbus Day began as a national holiday to celebrate Christopher Columbus’s 1492 arrival to the Caribbean, which was already occupied by indigenous people. This marked the beginning of European colonization of the Americas. In 1988, the State of Hawaiʻi changed “Columbus Day” to “Discoverers’ Day” to recognize the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands instead.

However, the public perception remains that the day is still a celebration of European accomplishments. Many people in Hawai’i still view the holiday as primarily celebrating Columbus, and even Captain Cook, rather than Polynesian voyagers. If the intention is to honor the original inhabitants of Hawai’i, then let’s be clear about it and join in the celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.

Our school’s choice to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day aligns with both our nation and our state, following President Biden’s 2021 recognition, and this past June, the passage of a Hawai’i state bill to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Summary by
Lindsey K. Combs, 'Iolani School History Faculty
Indigenous Peoples' Day Committee

“As we become more educated about the detrimental effects of colonization on Indigenous people, including our own Kanaka Maoli here in Hawaiʻi, we need to find every opportunity to uplift Indigenous people and culture… It is our kuleana to ensure that accurate histories are shared with our keiki and in our communities as we move forward. Declaring Indigenous People’s Day as an official state holiday not only honors the people, but gives us an opportunity to educate ourselves and others about the culture, history, and struggle of Indigenous people.”
Jodi Kunimitsu, Maui High Math Teacher, Chair- HSTA Human & Civil Rights Committee, NEA Asian & Pacific Islander Caucus
Lawmakers may create Indigenous Peoples' Day state holiday in October | HSTA

"We discovered Columbus, lost on our shores, sick, destitute, and wrapped in rags. We nourished him to health, and the rest is history," said Lakota activist Bill Means. "He represents the mascot of American colonialism in the western hemisphere. And so it is time that we change a myth of history."
Bill Means, Lakota activist
Goodbye Columbus: Minniapolis makes it Indigenous Peoples Day | MPR News

“Celebrating contemporary Native peoples and renouncing symbols of white supremacy is critical to our future. We must advocate for Native representation in media, education and all levels of government, center Native voices and prioritize learning about Native communities and history.

It’s important to remember that we cannot stop at simply advocating for Indigenous Peoples Day, we must transform systems to ensure the inclusion of Native voices. This begins through the work of advocacy and must include electing officials who care about our communities. As we build on the momentum of activists, we must work to keep elected officials accountable and ensure Native voices, issues, and contributions are a part of key policymaking decisions.”

IllumiNative, 2022 report:
For Our Future: An Advocate's Guide to Supporting Indigenous Peoples' Day

Anthony Castanha of the UHM Department of Ethnic Studies writes, the use of the term “Discoverers’ Day” as a replacement for “Columbus Day” is problematic because of the negative implications it carries, both in Hawai‘i, and nationally, as well:

“However one dilemma with the name ‘Discoverers’ Day’ is the public perception that the day is a celebration or recognition of European accomplishments. It is also observed at the same time ‘Columbus Day’ is federally recognized in the United States. October 12 is of course the day Columbus was thought to have ‘discovered’ America. Captain Cook is likewise still believed by many to have ‘discovered’ the Hawaiian Islands. These myths of Euro-American history are unfortunately still advanced in our schools and taught to our children.”
Anthony Castanha
Testimony in favor of SB 317, SD 1, 2014 | Hawai'i State Legislature

“The contributions that Indigenous peoples have made throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our Nation, our culture, and our society”
President Joe Biden
A Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples' Day, 2021 | The White House


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