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COMMENTARY: Park Rapids should adopt Indigenous People's Day

On Oct. 8, over 80 American cities, states and universities will celebrate Indigenous People's Day rather than Columbus Day.

It's time for Park Rapids.

To be clear, we can still take advantage of those Columbus Day sales, but formally, the city can recognize our long, historical relationship and create a beautiful future.

In 2016, Governor Dayton declared Monday, Oct. 10 as Indigenous People's Day in Minnesota. In this declaration, Dayton acknowledged that Minnesota "has been home to the Indigenous Peoples since time immemorial, and without whom, the building of this state would not have been possible."

This is no less true for Park Rapids. Our area was, and continues to be, home to the Dakota and Anishinaabeg. Great logging and land empires were built from the lands of the Anishinaabeg, and much of the wealth of the north comes from our people, even today. Local schools could improve basic knowledge of Anishinaabe history, values, governments, foods and treaties, that's for sure. Then people would be, well, less politically and socially awkward. Maybe even less ignorant or, let me say it, racist. This is not only for Native students, but for all who live here.

At the same time, many of the students at our schools are enrolled members of the White Earth Nation, tribal members shop in Park Rapids businesses, and we are a part of this city and this territory. This celebration is a step forward.

Baajidaabaaning is the name for Park Rapids. Now I can't say it's particularly a cool name, it means "at the dump truck" because of all the trucks that were brought in to build the dam on the Fishhook River, where the rapids are now under the reservoir pool. At the time, all that earth moving was pretty interesting to my ancestors.

Going back to Indigenous People's Day, Dayton's proclamation notes: "The State of Minnesota strives to eliminate systemic racism towards Indigenous Peoples and seeks to promote practices and policies that honor the state's indigenous roots, history and contributions, and reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, to ensure greater access and opportunity."

In 2015, Grand Rapids joined the cities nationally to declare Indigenous Peoples Day, proclaiming in a city council resolution: "Grand Rapids recognizes indigenous nations have lived upon this land since time immemorial and values the progress our society has accomplished through American Indian technology, thought and culture.

"Grand Rapids understands that in order to celebrate the strengths and recognize the challenges of indigenous people that government entities, organizations and other public institutions should change their policies and practices to better reflect the experiences of the American Indian people and uplift our country's Indigenous roots, history and contributions.

"The City of Grand Rapids embraces the indigenous history and culture that imbues this place and seeks to foster the accurate depiction of history, celebrate the strengths and recognize the challenges of American Indian peoples of the area, and honor their perspectives and presence in the shared community life of the Grand Rapids area today."

It is time for Park Rapids to follow in the footsteps of Mankato, Bemidji, Minneapolis and many other cities, and acknowledge the second Monday in October as Indigenous People's Day. We make our community; no one else does. It is time for Native people to feel welcome.

As far as that Columbus guy goes — remember, he wasn't such an awesome fellow. There was a lot of slavery, rape and murder associated with him. (I think if we are going Italian, we should celebrate Leonardo da Vinci or someone really smart and artistic. I've been to Italy about five times, and I love it. But I'll leave it to the Italians to figure out a plan.)

Indigenous People's Day is one step. Other steps include projects like the Ojibwe Language Sign project, which began in Bemidji and has spread through the north; forums and celebrations; a K-12 school curriculum, as well as more public events.

So, let it go, Park Rapids! We still love Italian food and coffees. We can eat more wild rice and host some amazing Ojibwe feasts and films to balance it out.

In short, we can celebrate Ojibwe and indigenous culture and futures, and build bridges. After all, we are all in this together.

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