Op-Ed: To address past injustices against Native people, we must move beyond renaming holidays

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Narratives about Native Americans in California and the nation have progressed in recent years, beginning to set aside the stereotypes and false histories that permeate American culture. This progression is seen more frequently in the fall, with the more significant discontinuation of the first Columbus Day, which many cities, including Los Angeles, are ditching for Indigenous People’s Day.

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Next comes the official federal designation of November as Native American Heritage Month and Thanksgiving. With the advancement of more historically accurate depictions of the original Thanksgiving, there are rising call For teachers to get away from the usual Thanksgiving activities which is essentially the worst of many American Indian stereotypes.

But we can’t just rename a holiday here and get a land acknowledgment there and be satisfied that the country’s abhorrent history and continuing injustice towards the natives has been resolved. Those who want to think that we live in the greatest democracy on the planet, even though we habitually lie about the foundations of our nation’s genocide, need to look beyond these early steps and determine how accountable it is. How does it look?


Injustices suffered by Indigenous peoples are embedded in the social fabric and legal system of the United States. They have allowed unwanted oil pipelines on treaty-protected tribal lands, such as President Trump’s move For the Keystone XL and Dakota Access Pipelines and Minnesota Part 3 of the Enbridge Line, Who President Biden Failed to Stop,

But it is just the tip of a much larger iceberg for American Indians, and especially for California Indians, because of the state’s particularly brutal history of genocide and land theft. Our state and our country have an existing historical infrastructure that perpetuates huge and deadly inequalities in health, education, crime, environmental justice, religious freedom and much more.

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These structures have created a complex spectrum of California Indian experiences and identities. There are approximately 200 tribal groups in California—including 109 federally recognized tribes, at least 77 federally unrecognized tribes, and thousands of individuals who are native to California but are federally recognized or unrecognized. Not enrolled in the receiving tribe. This fragmentation results in unequal distribution of resources, including retention of ancestral land and access to social services, education, and opportunities for economic development.

Despite its considerable shortcomings, California is trying to lead other states in their efforts to see accountability. Governor Gavin Newsom passed in 2019 Executive Order N-15-19, which includes an official apology to California Indians for the state’s “attempt to annihilate” the indigenous people of California.

But this is just a start. As museums, government agencies, and colleges and universities in California move toward understanding and dismantling the infrastructure of genocide, they must elevate California’s Indian expertise and experiences when developing their goals and strategies. They need to replace existing systems that lead with accurate representation and compensate native people for their labor. Complex topics such as land withdrawal should be addressed with ongoing summits between state and tribal leaders, as well as historians and other experts.

Recent examples of California’s aboriginal land acquisition may serve as a model for future land reclamation in the state. in 2015 About 700 acres of land on the Northern California coast were returned to the Kasia Band of the Pomos. Indian through a partnership with the Trust for Public Lands. Last year one of the Eschelon tribes reacquired nearly 1,200 acres on the Big Sur Coast through a $4.5 million grant from the California Natural Resources Agency.

Institutions should use as a guidepost United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples (UNDRIP), to which the United States is a signatory. This would include finding ways to create institutional practices that provide full consent to indigenous rights to self-determination and cultural identity, as well as development projects affecting tribes. In addition, there should be safeguards against discrimination outside the boundaries of reservation and to protect holy sites. This was done when UNDRIP was successfully implemented In 2011 by the Yocha Dehe and Cortina bands of the Wintun tribes to protect a sacred site through the creation of the Sogoria Te Land Trust in the East Bay.

Organizations will need to consult tribal community voices for their expertise, either by placing them on staff or by including money in their budgets for consultation fees. And they will need to create ways to put truth and reconciliation efforts into practice by acknowledging the true history of the California tribes.

In some cases this means examining one’s own history and acknowledging wrongdoings in the past. Striving to learn, respect, and follow Aboriginal cultural protocol should be standard practice for institutions that seek to redress past harm against Indigenous peoples.

California’s recent actions are a sign of progress. But they can only be seen as the beginning of repair if the state is meant to establish a truly just relationship with the Indians of California.

Jolie Proudfit, Luiseno/Pyomkavicham, is the President of American Indian Studies and director of the California Indian Center for Culture and Sovereignty at Cal State San Marcos. Dina Gillio-Whitaker is a lecturer in American Indian Studies at Colville Confederate Tribes, California State University San Marcos, and an independent consultant on American Indian environmental justice policy issues. Nicole Lim, POMO, is a lecturer in American Indian Studies at California State University San Marcos and executive director of the California Indian Museum and Cultural Center.

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