Indigenous Peoples' Day 2022
haʔł sləx̌il txwəl dəgwi (Good day to you!)
My name is Matthew Haver, and I’m your new Native American and Alaskan Native Education Support Specialist here in SK. Next Monday, October 10th, we’ll all get a day off to celebrate “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” and the greeting above is in Lushootseed, the traditional language of the Suquamish People, whose ancestral territory the South Kitsap School District rests on.
The Suquamish people hunted and gathered food and medicinal plants in the forests and marshes between Long Lake and Puget Sound including Banner Forest. Hunting parties and family groups traveled inland throughout the year from winter villages right here in Olalla and at Colby, near Curly Creek. (Olalla is actually an English transliteration of a name from the Lushootseed language.) Called “Teka” on early maps, the location here in Olalla had a cedar long house and palisade. Cattails in the wetlands were collected and used to weave mats for cushions, canoe coverings, for sleeping, and for summer housing. Baskets were made from coiled cedar roots and were used for collecting berries and were so expertly woven they were watertight and could be used to carry water and even for cooking. Clams and shellfish were collected from the beaches and salmon were caught as they ascended Olalla Creek and were dried.
Along with Colby and Olalla, the Suquamish had winter villages at Point Bolin, Poulsbo, Silverdale, Chico, Point White, Lynwood Center, Eagle Harbor, Port Madison, Battle Point and, of course, Suquamish. The best-known winter village was “Old Man House” which was the home of Chief Seattle and Chief Kitsap, who our county and school district are named after.
And, speaking of names, some of you might be asking, what happened to Columbus Day? Well, 45 years ago, in 1977, at the United Nations International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, the idea was proposed that Indigenous Peoples’ Day replace Columbus Day, as a way to recognize that Indigenous people were the real first inhabitants of the Americas, including the land that eventually became the United States. In 1989, the first state officially recognized the holiday – South Dakota – ancestral home to the Santee-Dakota, Yankton-Nakota and Teton-Lakota people.
As of this year, the holiday is observed or honored by 14 states – Alaska, Minnesota, Vermont, Iowa, North Carolina, California, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, New Mexico, Wisconsin, Virginia, Oregon, Texas – as well as South Dakota, which celebrates Native Americans’ Day, Hawaii, which celebrates Discoverers' Day, and Alabama, which celebrates American Indian Heritage Day. Because Washington doesn’t recognize Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day doesn’t replace it, but many cities and school districts do recognize it, including ours.
Indigenous Peoples' Day is not yet a federal holiday, but last year, on Oct 8th, 2021, President Joe Biden became the first U.S. president to issue a proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, writing,
“Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”
Here in South Kitsap, we have students from all 32 Washington State tribes, including Suquamish, and over 50 others from around the rest of the continental US and Alaska. My own great grandmother Mary was Tlingit and came from Alaska, and many of your teachers, coaches and school staff share Indigenous heritage as well. So, when we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we’re really celebrating each other.
The Tlingit people have a word for thank you – Gunalchéesh. But it also has a second meaning – “it would not be possible without you.” Next Monday we will honor the people who came before us and acknowledge that our lives in this beautiful part of the world called South Kitsap would not be possible without them.
So, Gunalchéesh to our friends the Suquamish People, and Gunalchéesh to you, for reading. Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day.