David Ryder/Getty Images
Rene Roman Nose addresses the crowd during a celebration marking Indigenous Peoples Day at the Daybreak Star Cultural Center on October 13, 2014 in Seattle, Washington. Earlier that afternoon, Seattle Mayor Ed Murray signed a resolution designating the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples Day.

Reflections on Indigenous Peoples Day

Chris Stearns

Today, the City of Seattle celebrates Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In doing so, Seattle is honoring the important legacy, achievements, and culture of the original People of Seattle, of Puget Sound, and of North America. Without us, there would be no Seattle.

Seattle owes the First People of this region a great debt. In 1855, 82 tribal leaders from the Puget Sound, including Chief Seattle, signed the Treaty of Point Elliott, ceding hundreds of thousands of acres of land, including the land that makes up all of Seattle today. Yet only 11 years later, as soon as the Town of Seattle was founded, the Council passed Ordinance No. 5 (1865) which decreed that “no Indian or Indians shall be permitted to reside, or locate their residences on any street, highway, lane, or alley or any vacant lot in the town of Seattle.”

Today, the original inhabitants of Seattle are thriving, despite a century and a half of discrimination. And while progress is being made, there is a great amount of work that remains to be done to improve the living conditions, the economic status, the educational needs, and health status of Native Americans living within the city today. For instance, there are 14,338 Native Americans living in Seattle and 44,500 living in King County. But the poverty rate for Native Americans is still a staggering 31.6 percent, and 26.1 in King County.

It was in this context that in 2014 a strong band of Native American leaders, elders, youth, and activists joined forces to convince the Seattle City Council and the Mayor to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day. There was certain resistance and backlash—that was to be expected—but the Native people held strong and the city leaders did too. On October 6, 2014, Seattle officially resolved to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day the second Monday of every October henceforth.

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The City of Seattle proclaimed that today should be used to “celebrate the thriving cultures and values of the Indigenous Peoples of our region” and to “firmly commit to continue its efforts to promote the well-being and growth of Seattle’s American Indian and Indigenous community.”

Today in Seattle, there will be a large public celebration near Pike Place Market, a march through the heart of the city along Fourth Avenue, a program at City Hall featuring Sherman Alexie, and a community cultural celebration at Daybreak Star Center in the evening. This year, the City Council also passed a new resolution making it official city policy to support the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe in its fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline. The resolution was sponsored by Council Member Debora Juarez (Blackfeet Tribe), co-sponsored by the Council President Bruce Harrell, and strongly supported by Council Member Kshama Sawant.

The amazing beauty of all of this is that Seattle’s celebration demonstrates the best of us. Today, for instance would not be possible without the hard work and vision of our young Native leaders, our elders, and people with good hearts from all walks of life. It took courage and common sense to agree to reach out to one another and work together. Today demonstrates the importance of the Native vote, of the election of Debora Juarez and the support for indigenous people within the City Council and Mayor’s office. And today demonstrates that we, as Native people, care for one another, and lift each other up, as evidenced by the fact that this year’s resolution supporting the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe.

That is the true spirit of Indigenous Peoples Day.

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