Alaska celebrates first permanent Indigenous Peoples Day

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ANCHORAGE (KTUU) - On Monday, Alaskans will honor the first permanent Indigenous Peoples Day, recognizing the first nations people and Alaska Native culture. This, after several years of stopgap measures to institute a Indigenous Peoples Day in the past.

For two years prior in 2015 and 2016, Gov. Bill Walker and city mayors established the day as the second Monday of October, rather than the state-recognized celebration of Columbus Day. These were officially executive proclamations. The law officially changing the day was signed into permanence as HB 78, which Walker signed earlier this year, with approval from the Alaska Federation of Natives.

“AFN is greatly heartened by the outpouring of support from Alaskans in making Indigenous Peoples Day permanent. We hope the inclusiveness that this bipartisan legislation represents will be carried forward into the efforts by our lawmakers to craft a comprehensive and fair solution to the state’s fiscal challenges,” AFN President Julie Kitka said when the bill was signed.

On Monday, both Walker and Lt. Gov. Byron Mallot expressed their feelings on the first permanent celebration of the day. “This official designation is merely one way we as a state can come together, and acknowledge and celebrate the monumental contributions made by First Peoples throughout history," Walker wrote in a statement. “The history of this land continues to be written by indigenous people," Mallot added.

Some opposed the signing of the bill, which passed both legislative bodies. Democratic Rep. Zach Fansler opposed the date change, saying the bill aims to foster multiculturalism and diversity.

The bill was signed into law in June during the Nalukataq Whaling Festival. At that time, community leaders commented specifically on the date that Indigenous Peoples Day falls on, the federally recognized Columbus Day.

“Celebrating Columbus Day is a real challenging thing for Native people in the United States. It doesn’t recognize and we don’t speak about the impact that contact had on the indigenous people of our nation,” said Darlene Trigg with the Social Justice Task Force in Nome.

Several other states similarly celebrate Indigenous People's Day. Additionally, a national movement not only seeks to celebrate that day, but to replace Columbus Day altogether.