How to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day With Your Family

Indigenous Peoples' Day

 David Ryder / Stringer / Getty Images

These days, many of us are rethinking the way that history and culture were taught to us. We want to ensure that our children get a more accurate and inclusive education around issues of race, diversity, colonization, heritage, and American history.

As such, many of us are looking to reframe certain traditional holidays that might not honestly represent all perspectives and experiences. Columbus Day is one example of this. The holiday celebrates Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, but for many of us, it represents the unjust, forceful colonization of the Indigenous American people.

Indigenous Peoples' Day is a holiday that often serves as an alternative to Columbus Day. It honors the lives and cultures of indigenous Americans and seeks to educate the American public about a piece of history that many of us were not accurately taught in school.

Whether you’re looking to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time, or are looking for some new ways to celebrate the day with your children, we’ve rounded up five family-friendly ways for you to celebrate.

What Is Indigenous Peoples' Day?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day has been celebrated in one form or another since the nineties. In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to rename Columbus Day to Native American's Day. Soon after, in 1992, Berkeley, California became the first city to officially rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Over the years, as awareness has grown, more states and cities have jumped on board. As of now, 14 states and over 130 cities no longer celebrate Columbus Day but celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.

It should be noted that the inclination to question the celebration of Columbus Day goes back much farther than the 1990s. For decades, Indigenous people have protested Columbus Day, and have looked to expose the ways that Christopher Columbus and other colonizers conquered their land and killed millions of their people.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated by indigenous Americans and anyone who wants to honor the truth behind indigenous history, and celebrate and honor the rich lives and cultures of indigenous people.

When Is It Celebrated?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated on the second Monday of October, which usually coincides with Columbus Day.

Why Is It Celebrated?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day can mean different things to different people. It’s often thought of as a way to protest the “whitewashing” of American history that Columbus Day represents. The holiday seeks to point out the fact that the violent actions of explorers like Christopher Columbus are not something we should be celebrating.

Additionally, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a time to promote a more comprehensive American education, to ensure that our children grow up with an awareness of some of the more uncomfortable truths about our nation’s history. For example, when Austin, Texas adopted Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2017, their resolution encouraged local schools to teach a more comprehensive telling of Indigenous history.

Finally, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a time to celebrate the heritage of Indigenous American people. The holiday is celebrated around the country with gatherings of indigenous people and supporters. These celebrations often include dancing, cooking and eating traditional indigenous foods, dressing in traditional clothing, and sharing art, jewelry, and other cultural traditions.

Family-Friendly Ways to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day

There are many fun, thought-provoking, and enriching ways to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a family with options for children of all ages and maturity levels.

Here are five ideas for celebrating Indigenous People’s Day with your family.

Join an In-Person or Online Celebration

Many local cities and towns have Indigenous People’s Day celebrations. For example, Randall's Island in New York City hosts one of the largest Indigenous People’s Day celebrations in the country, gathering indigenous people around the world for two days of festivities and celebrations. Several museums around the country host educational and celebratory events for the day as well.

If you can’t make an in-person event, you might attend one of the many online events that have popped up over the past few years. Local libraries and museums are great places to find these sorts of events. The National Museum Of The American Indian at the Smithsonian Museum has hosted events like this in the past and will be hosting online events again this year.

Read Indigenous Literature as a Family

Reading is a wonderful and enjoyable way to teach children about history. There are many books written about indigenous culture and history. When possible, it’s always best to read books written by indigenous people themselves, who write from their lived experience.

Debbie Reese, of American Indians in Children's Literature (AICL), compiled a helpful list of board books for younger kids and chapter books for elementary-aged kids that is worth exploring. High school-aged kids might appreciate “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States for Young People,” which offers an alternative look at the history of America from the perspective of indigenous people.

Learn About Indigenous History and Culture

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is the perfect opportunity to educate yourself and your family about indigenous history. Again, many of us weren’t taught the whole truth of this aspect of American history in school, so in seeking out educational resources for our children, we will likely learn a thing or two ourselves.

You can begin with something simple like YouTube. The five-minute video, “History v. Christopher Columbus,” by the History Channel is a good place to start. The Zinn Education Project has a thorough section on Native American history, with many articles and resources. Native Knowledge 360 at the Smithsonian Museum is another fantastic resource for user-friendly indigenous education.

Plant Some Native Plants

A lovely, earth-conscious way to honor indigenous culture and to “give back” is to plant some Native American plants as a family. Some native plants to consider are milkweed plants and pawpaw trees. You can consult the U.S. Forest Service website to learn more about native plants and how to plant and care for them.

Activism for Indigenous People

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a great day to take action to support the indigenous community. You can donate to organizations like the NDN Collective, which is part of the indigenous people’s “landback movement.” Other indigenous activist organizations to consider donating to and supporting include Native American Rights Fund (NARF), Warrior Women Project, and The American Indian College Fund.

If your city, town, or state doesn’t yet recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, you can work on changing that! Write to your local congresspeople or consider exploring the Zinn Education Project, which offers a toolkit for people who are looking to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

A Word From Verywell

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day is all about educating your children and yourself about indigenous history and culture. It’s an opportunity to dispel any misconceptions about Christopher Columbus and the colonization of indigenous people.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is also a day to have fun, immerse yourself in indigenous culture, expand your horizons, and find deeper and more meaningful ways to connect with your family. However you choose to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the most important thing is that you do so respectfully, and in the spirit of honoring indigenous people and cultures.

3 Sources
Verywell Family uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy.
  1. Gokey R, Zotigh D. Rethinking how we celebrate American history-Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Smithsonian Magazine.

  2. Gokey R. Five ideas for celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2020. Smithsonian Magazine.

  3. Little B. What Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

By Wendy Wisner
Wendy Wisner is a lactation consultant and writer covering maternal/child health, parenting, general health and wellness, and mental health. She has worked with breastfeeding parents for over a decade, and is a mom to two boys.