Indigenous People’s Day Message

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October 11, 2021

Today, the National Indian Gaming Association joins the entire Nation in recognizing and celebrating Indigenous People’s Day. In recent years, State and Tribal Governments have marked this day to recognize the many historic contributions of Indigenous people.

Chairman Stevens issued a statement on the importance of Indigenous People’s Day to Indian Country: “At its core, Indigenous People’s Day is an opportunity to educate American citizens about the First Peoples of this continent and tell the story of our traditions, culture, and contributions to world history. It is an opportunity to tell the history of North America, not from the European settlers’ or ‘Hollywood’s’ perspective, but from the perspective of the indigenous people living here since time immemorial. Even today, there remains a need to educate the public that Christopher Columbus did not ‘discover’ America in 1492, but instead, he found a vibrant, diverse, and culturally sophisticated Native America with over 100 million inhabitants.”

Indigenous People’s Day is now observed by more than 130 metropolitan cities and towns and states, including Minnesota, Alaska, Maine, Michigan, Louisiana, Oregon, New Mexico, Nevada, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Vermont, Virginia, South Dakota, and in my home state of Wisconsin, with more recognition growing each year.

On Friday, October 8th, President Joe Biden issued the first-ever presidential proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day today, October 11th. In the proclamation he shared:
“The contributions that Indigenous peoples have made throughout history — in public service, entrepreneurship, scholarship, the arts, and countless other fields — are integral to our Nation, our culture, and our society. Indigenous peoples have served, and continue to serve, in the United States Armed Forces with distinction and honor — at one of the highest rates of any group — defending our security every day. And Native Americans have been on the front lines of the COVID-19 pandemic, working essential jobs and carrying us through our gravest moments. Further, in recognition that the pandemic has harmed Indigenous peoples at an alarming and disproportionate rate, Native communities have led the way in connecting people with vaccination, boasting some of the highest rates of any racial or ethnic group.”

Today, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers joined Tribal leaders at the Oneida Nation’s Norbert Hill Center in not only recognizing Indigenous People’s Day but issuing an executive order formally acknowledging and apologizing for Wisconsin’s “historical role” the state played in implementing the federal government’s abhorrent Indian boarding school policy. The event brought discussions by Evers and including Oneida Nation Chairman Tehassi Hill
and Shannon Holsey, President at Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians.

In a statement, he said, “For more than a century between the 1860s and 1970s, the U.S. federal government-induced and coerced thousands of Native American children from their families and homes, placing them into boarding schools funded by the U.S. government operated by the government and religious organizations,” a statement from the governor’s office said. “Estimates indicate thousands of children were forced to attend day and boarding schools across the country. Residential schools sought to force assimilation of Native American children by isolating them from their cultural identities, punishing them for speaking their native language or practicing their traditions, prohibiting them from wearing traditional clothing, and requiring children to cut their hair.”

“The residential schools have had intergenerational effects on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities, including emotional trauma and culture and language loss, among many other long-lasting, negative consequences,”

“As a state, we share responsibility for acknowledging the pain inflicted on Tribal communities historically and even still today. We also have a moral obligation to pursue the truth and to bring these injustices to light in Wisconsin and across our country because that understanding, and acknowledgment is essential for accountability and healing.”

Chairman Stevens shared, ” As Chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, today I had the honor of joining our partners, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI), in their annual convention gaming subcommittee I chair. I shared my comments first by honoring Indigenous People’s Day and then by recognizing my late Grandmother Maria Hinton, who left this world eight years ago at the age of 103.

Her contributions to our Oneida history were many. She was a Faith keeper of the Oneida longhouse and one of the country’s first state-certified Oneida language teachers. Born into the Oneida language, Grandma Hinton spoke fluent Oneida her entire life. It wasn’t until she began attending the local government boarding school as a young child did, she begin learning to speak English. In her lifetime, grandma attended several boarding schools in Oneida, the Ho-chunk community, and then later in Mt. Pleasant, Michigan, and at Haskell Institute. While my grandmother, like so many other native people, endured abuse, and other forms of mistreatment, she always declined when asked to speak about her time in boarding schools. She took the best of her teaching and left the dark history she experienced in the past.

Grandma worked her way through life, meeting the challenges as a native woman in the depression era. Her desire to learn and teach never waned. She returned to college in her 60’s to continue her commitment to passing her knowledge of the Oneida language on to future generations. She completed her degree at almost 70 years old. She stayed in the classroom well into her 90’s, where she and her brother created the Oneida language dictionary, culminating her career by finalizing the digital aspect of the Oneida language dictionary at almost 100 years old. Grandma was an icon in the community, and help found the Oneida Nation school system, and was grandma to the community.

As Indigenous people, we all hold our history close to our hearts, and for each of us, it is an attribute to the foundations of our people. As each of us observes Indigenous People’s Day in our manner, I want to ask each of us to think about how Native Americans indeed influenced this country.

We are America’s First people who have made a giant difference from the first European contact to today. And as we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day this year, throughout America, let us all appreciate one another’s culture, history, and beliefs as we walk together in this diverse and beautiful place, we call America.

America will continue to grow as it understands and knows firsthand our true history, which is essential for the world around us in understanding that at its essence, we are a strong, resilient, and sovereign people and American’s first government.