Indigenous People’s Day a ‘good start’ but not enough, Indigenous rights advocates say

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LANSING, Mich. (WLNS) – Today many federal buildings like banks and post offices were closed to recognize Columbus Day.

But in recent years, there’s been a push to refocus that energy on Native Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day.

Governor Gretchen Whitmer made Michigan one of just 11 states nationwide that officially proclaimed today Indigenous Peoples Day.

The day is intended to honor Native American history and culture but much like so many battles for equality, those most affected say there has been progress, but more needs to be done.

“I was Anishinabe before I was born, I’ll be Anishinabe until after I die,” said Ellie Mitchell, who grew up on a Native American reservation.

A member of the Ojibwa tribe – indigenous life is how Mitchell was raised..

It’s the main reason why she says Columbus day never played a role in her life

“I never realized Columbus Day was a holiday until I got to MSU as a freshman,” Mitchell said. “We sort of ignored it.”

That was more than a decade ago and just like students did this year, Mitchell says she and others would paint the rock to gain attention for the cause.

She recalls a switch in mentality in 2016 when the East Lansing city council voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

“The tone of that day kind of flipped from a day of political protest to a day of celebration in our community,” Mitchell said.

Mitchell says this year is more emotional than in years past.

Recent discoveries of horrific conditions at Native American boarding schools and news of missing and murdered indigenous women are making things tougher.

And that’s just the beginning.

“With sports teams changing their names, with Supreme Court cases, with our presence in the news media that honestly, I wasn’t sure if I’d ever see in my lifetime,” Mitchell said. “So things have changed.”

As far as her overall opinion of Indigenous Peoples Day and its role for Native Americans across the state?

“Has this made a material impact in my life and tribal community? I don’t necessarily think so,” Mitchell said. “But it’s a first step.”

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