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Biden signs Indigenous People's Day proclamation, Delaware not a state observer

Delaware Public Media

For the second year in a row, President Joe Biden signs a presidential proclamation declaring Monday Indigenous People’s Day.

Biden is the only president to officially proclaim the observance, and some states including Delaware, have not yet adopted recognizing Indigenous People’s Day rather than Columbus Day - though Delaware does not recognize either.

The tension between the two remains a source of controversy, but University of Delaware Native American culture professor Jay Custer says a presidential proclamation would not have been possible 20 years ago.

“Everything we think we know is conditioned by the fact that there was an awful thing in the past," Custer says. "And, white people, I’ll use that term, have controlled the knowledge for years and years and years. Indian people didn't get a say. And so it's made to make us feel better.”

Custer adds most of what non-Indigenous people think they know about Native Americans is wrong, including harmful stereotypes permeated by colonizers hundreds of years ago.

“Indians are warlike, Indians didn't value women, there weren't many Indians living here anyway, their languages were simple, and that's why they had to use sign language, these are all incorrect sterotypes,” Custer says.

Indigenous Peoples Day provides an opportunity, Custer says, to think about those distortions and how to atone for past actions.

“We’ve got a lot of dirty laundry in the closet, namely, what happened to American Indian people," Custer says. "There's a whole movement, and I think it's an accurate one, to recognize it as a genocide. How could our country have been part of something that was genocide that sought to eliminate the people that lived here so that we could take their land and resources? People don't want to address that, people don't want to think about that. More are willing now than were in the past and I guess that's a good thing.”

While rededicating Columbus Day is one step, the real celebrations of Native American Culture coincide with the harvest moon between September and October, and during Native American Heritage month in November.

Rachel Sawicki was born and raised in Camden, Delaware and attended the Caesar Rodney School District. They graduated from the University of Delaware in 2021 with a double degree in Communications and English and as a leader in the Student Television Network, WVUD and The Review.