Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a complicated day in America.

Many people head to stores for the heavy discounts offered on Columb*s Day, which is still strangely, yet widely, celebrated. Others ignore the day entirely, willfully or not. For Indigenous people, it can be both celebratory and precarious. Many Indigenous youth will celebrate with their families but also attend schools where lessons of Columb*s’ “discovery” will be taught. Many other Indigenous people will be called upon to give speeches or lectures or workshops to teach non-Indigenous people about the holiday and Columb*s’ true history.  Others will dread the yearly debates that arise, the “but that was so long agos”, or the “but didn’t Indigenous peoples just die off from diseases?” or the “I thought all the Indians were dead anyways.” Indigenous people will see this commentary, some of which may come from friends or acquaintances, and we will perhaps be wounded or angry or frustrated, but we will not be surprised.  

I recently had a son. He is seven months old, bright-eyed and beautiful. I think every day about how to protect him from a world that seems determined to scorn Indigenous peoples. His daycare recently released a calendar for the month of October listing days they would like the kids to dress in various Halloween attire: a spooky hat one day, a costume on another, and so on. And while the month of October presents enough issues of its own for Indigenous people, I know that next month is often worse. November is Native American Heritage Month, and like Indigenous Peoples Day, though designed to celebrate Indigenous people, the month often ends up muddied with stereotypes and sharing time with other conflicting holidays like Columb*s day or Thanksgiving. I worry that on the daycare calendar next month, will kids be encouraged to dress like pilgrims and Indians? I know that this still happens regularly in schools during Thanksgiving day celebrations, but I had not considered that this could happen in a daycare. Now, ahead of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a day that I should be celebrating, I am plagued with this worry, not just about this November, but about all of the Novembers of my son’s life. I am worried about all of the Halloweens that may always be a little less fun once he sees how many people dress like Indians on this day. I am worried for the questions about these things that will undoubtedly come when he is older.

Perhaps to be a mother is to worry, but to be Indigenous is to worry, too, and thus, I have been given a double portion. And while my son may be too young to worry about such now, and while I prepare and reckon for the mother I intend to be for him in the future, right now the mother he needs now should be joyful. In the class I teach, Indigenous Education in Rural Contexts, one of the most important points that I implore to my class is the idea of Indigenous joy. Too often the media has been riddled with movies and news stories that only highlight Indigenous suffering: Dances with Wolves, Last of the Mohicans, Wind River, Avatar, and stories of boarding schools and missing and murdered Indigenous women (MMIW). And while the latter two are critically important for people to know about, showcasing only Indigenous suffering, trauma or pain paints a false image of Indigeneity. We are an inherently joyful people. But if you let the movies tell it, we are painfully and pridefully stoic, never smiling, more like relics or artifacts than humans. But when I am home with my family, I laugh until my belly aches. I sometimes cry from laughing so hard. And to my extreme joy, my little son laughs even harder than me. What better inheritance could I give to my boy?

This Indigenous Peoples’ Day, I encourage you to luxuriate in the beauty that is Indigenous joy. Watch Rez Dogs on Hulu. Check out some of the 1491s comedy skits. Read some Indigenous children’s books. Listen to the All My Relations podcast. In no way am I encouraging non-Indigenous peoples to forgo learning about the traumas Indigenous people have endured and are still enduring. But to only learn about these things is to deny us our humanity, is to treat us as though we are only eternal victims. But we have survived more than 500 years of genocide and we are only becoming stronger. And laughing louder.

So today and everyday, it’s Columb*s who?! The only Christopher I acknowledge is Wallace anyway. So celebrate this day, laugh out loud, and know that somewhere nearby, me and my son are laughing, too.