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Up First briefing: How — and why — we honor Indigenous Peoples' Day

Professor emerita Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne), a pioneer in Native American studies, received a National Humanities Medal from President Biden in 2021. The White House citation honors Mann "for dedicating her life to strengthening and developing Native American education."
Matika Wilbur
Professor emerita Henrietta Mann (Cheyenne), a pioneer in Native American studies, received a National Humanities Medal from President Biden in 2021. The White House citation honors Mann "for dedicating her life to strengthening and developing Native American education."

Good morning. You're reading the Up First newsletter. Subscribe here to get it delivered to your inbox, and listen to the Up First podcast for all the news you need to start your day.

Today's news

A third day of war is underway as Israel responds to a surprise attack by Hamas. Israeli media says more than 700 Israelis have been killed, and others are being held captive in Gaza. Israel has in turn launched air strikes into Gaza, killing what authorities say is more than 400 people there.

Rockets are fired toward Israel from Gaza on Saturday.
Fatima Shbair / AP
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AP
Rockets are fired toward Israel from Gaza on Saturday.

  • The Israeli military said Monday it's still battling Hamas militants in several Israeli residential communities, and that militants continue to infiltrate from Gaza. NPR's Daniel Estrin reports from Tel Aviv that police are setting up checkpoints across the country, and many Israelis still don't know the status of their relatives.
  • Israel has been launching heavy air strikes on Gaza, hitting at least 1,000 targets including many mosques. Israel also cut off the electricity supply to Gaza, and its main hospital is running low on supplies.
  • Many are wondering how Hamas pulled off such a large scale attack without any warning. That's what NPR's Greg Myre is asking attendees at a pre-planned conference of current and former national security officials. He tells Up First there's talk of what role Hamas' main patron, Iran, might have played. 

A tale of two holidays

Indigenous Peoples' Day honors Native Americans, their resilience and their contributions to U.S. society in the face of generations of assimilation, discrimination and genocide. It shifts focus away from the federal holiday named after Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, who is credited with discovering the Americas — despite the devastating effects that colonization had on the Indigenous people who already lived there.

  • President Biden was the first president to recognize the holiday in 2021. A growing number of localities have come to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples' Day in recent years: Ten states and more than 100 cities officially celebrate it.

Protesters marched in an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in Boston on Oct. 10, 2020, as part of a demonstration to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day.
Boston Globe / Boston Globe via Getty Images
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Boston Globe via Getty Images
Protesters marched in an Indigenous Peoples Day rally in Boston on Oct. 10, 2020, as part of a demonstration to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day.

There are no set rules on how to mark the day, though there are some recommended activities. You can look up — and formally acknowledge — which Indigenous lands you're on, attend a community or virtual event and support Indigenous causes, businesses and authors.

Columbus Day is still a federal holiday and celebrated in many states — the explorer remains a significant figure to many, particularly in the Italian American community.

Picture show

Photographer Matika Wilbur, of Swinomish and Tulalip descent, set out on a mission in 2012: to illustrate Native Americans' diversity and complexity by photographing members of all the then-562 federally-recognized U.S. tribes. More than 10 years , 600,000 miles and several vehicles later, she has published her portraits and interviews in a book called Project 562: Changing the Way We See Native America — a work she describes to NPR as one of "narrative correction."

Recommended reads and listens

<em>Contenders</em> and <em>My Powerful Hair </em>are two recent children's books about Indigenous heritage.
/ Henry A. Abrams & Kokila
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Henry A. Abrams & Kokila
Contenders and My Powerful Hair are two recent children's books about Indigenous heritage.

Many Indigenous authors are writing about the past, present and future of Native life and culture in the U.S. Here are some who have recently shared their stories with NPR:

  • Carole Lindstrom's My Powerful Hair turns a painful truth about racism into a celebration of Native culture.  
  • Contenders: Two Native Baseball Players, One World Series by Traci Sorell and Arigon Starr tells the story of John Meyers and Charles Bender's 1911 World Series faceoff. 
  • Morgan Talty balances heaviness with humor in Night of the Living Rez, a collection of short stories about members of a Native American tribe wrestling with poverty and addiction. 
  • In Becoming Kin: An Indigenous Call to Unforgetting the Past and Reimagining Our FuturePatty Krawec explores Native and settler history, myth and identity, weaving her own story with ancestors'.


Check out some of the podcast episodes from the NPR Network that spotlight Native stories:

  • NHPR's Civics 101 looks at the well-worn stories of Christopher Columbus, Pocahontas, the Pilgrims and Puritans and the Founding Fathers. Separate fact from fiction and learn about how these foundational myths came to be.
  • At a sacred spring high up on California's Mount Shasta, the Winnemem Wintu Tribe recounts the beginnings of the world when salmon gave up their voices so that humans could speak. KALW's The Spiritual Edge explores the special obligation they now feel to defend salmon in return for this gift.
  • Most reservation land in the U.S. actually isn't owned by tribes. NPR's Throughline took a road trip through two reservations — one entirely owned by the tribe and one where the tribe owns just a fraction of the land. It explores the moments that led them down different paths, and what their futures look like. 

Stories you may have missed

The waters off Morro Rock could be a bellwether for climate change, since warmer water species may migrate into the area as the ocean heats up.
/ Robert Schwemmer/NOAA
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Robert Schwemmer/NOAA
The waters off Morro Rock could be a bellwether for climate change, since warmer water species may migrate into the area as the ocean heats up.

The Biden administration is one step away from designating the first national marine sanctuary nominated by a tribe. The Chumash Heritage National Marine Sanctuary would prevent wind turbines and offshore oil platforms from being installed in some 5,600 square miles of ocean off the central California coast — land that has been sacred to the Chumash people for 20,000 years.

The city of Denver donated 35 bison to several Native American tribes and one memorial council in Colorado, Oklahoma and Wyoming. It's an example of Indigenous people reclaiming stewardship over land and animals that their ancestors managed for generations.

After much lobbying, an Alaska school district can now operate on an academic calendar aligned with seasonal subsistence harvests. That lets students participate in the fall moose hunt and spring migratory bird harvest, learning traditional knowledge that can't be gained in a classroom.

This newsletter was edited by Majd Al-Waheidi. Suzanne Nuyen contributed.

Copyright 2023 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

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Rachel Treisman (she/her) is a writer and editor for the Morning Edition live blog, which she helped launch in early 2021.
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