Grand Forks celebrated its first-ever Indigenous Peoples Day on Monday, Oct. 14.
On a day that until recently had been dedicated to Christopher Columbus, a crowd of people squeezed into the Fire Hall Theatre to hear from American Indian leaders and academics before spilling into the theater’s parking lot, where they danced, munched on indigenous food samples and listened to Red Lake Nation rapper Thomas X.
“I didn’t learn our true history until I got to college,” Jamie Azure, the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians’ chairman, told attendees at the outset of the celebration. “So I learned that Custer was a hero. I learned that Columbus was a hero -- he was this great person that discovered a land. But how can you discover a land when there’s 20 million people already inhabiting it?”
Azure encouraged attendees to research North Dakota’s tribal nations -- “information is a click away,” he said -- and added that American Indian “warriors” are moving forward with Microsoft Surfaces and 747s instead of bows and horses.
“We survived a genocide,” Azure said, letting his foot thunk heavily on the stage for emphasis. “And we’re still here. And today we are louder than ever, and the way we get our voices out are in sessions like this.”
Other speakers were Donald Warne, Collette Adamsen, Siobhan Wescott and Nicole Redvers, all of whom are indigenous faculty members or administrators at the University of North Dakota.
Grand Forks City Council members, who unanimously voted to swap out Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day in July, were meeting next door when the festivities began. Some trickled in afterward. Council member Katie Dachtler, who led the charge among city leaders to switch the holidays, attended the celebration instead of the meeting.