Alaska’s governor recognized Monday, which is federally known as Columbus Day, as Indigenous Peoples Day for the entire state. Columbus Day is not recognized on the state level. Governor Bill Walker signed the proclamation Monday morning and First Alaskans President Liz Medicine Crow made the announcement at the Elders and Youth Conference.
“Well moments ago,” she told the crowd. “The inaugural Indigenous Peoples Day of Alaska!”
The name change only applies to this year. In order for a permanent change to happen, there must be a new state statute. That’s what was done to recognize Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota and Gov. Walker’s press secretary, Katie Marquette, said in an email that she not aware of any plans from the governor’s office to propose new legislation to create an official state holiday.
The declaration came on the heels of a similar announcement by Anchorage Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. The city now also recognizes the holiday, though the mayor’s proclamation does not limit the recognition to only this year. It will stay Indigenous Peoples Day for Anchorage unless a future mayor changes it.
The move is largely symbolic. Columbus Day is a federal holiday and state and city employees are required to report to work. But First Alaskans board member and former state lawmaker Willie Hensley says the declaration is important.
“This is a historic moment considering all the trials and tribulations our people have experienced over time. A lot of not so good stuff, historically speaking. But finally, after all these years of work by a lot of people and a lot of understanding by people who didn’t know a lot about our people, we’re beginning to understand each other a little bit better.”
At least nine other cities nationwide recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.
Correction: An earlier version of this story said that every second Monday of October in Alaska would be Indigenous Peoples Day. The proclamation only applies to 2015.