Native American Day in South Dakota
Written by Marcus Heerdt
October 12, 2019

This year, Monday, October 14, is Native American Day here in South Dakota. In much of the rest of the country, the day is a federal holiday known as Columbus Day, however, some states do not observe this holiday, South Dakota included. Florida, Hawaii, Alaska, Vermont, New Mexico, Maine, and our state of South Dakota observe holidays that honor Native Americans.

I taught middle school Social Studies for eight years and each year when I told my 7th graders that Christopher Columbus never set foot in what is now the United States, most were shocked. Columbus explored areas in and around the Caribbean, and never even set foot anywhere in North America. The closest he came was the Bahamas. Columbus did not discover America. Many people were in the Americas before him, including Norse explorers and of course, the Native Americans inhabited the continent long before European exploration.

In 1990, South Dakota Governor George Mickelson declared a “Year of Reconciliation” and Columbus Day became Native Americans Day, a day in honor of Native Americans, rather than a holiday which celebrates a man who never made it to mainland America.

According to a recent news story from KOTA, a Native American man named Tim Gaigo helped create Native American Day in South Dakota.

He said, "I sat down and had a long talk with him (SD Governor George Mickelson) and we talked about race relations. It was one of his big concerns as governor of South Dakota. And he wanted to do something to try improve race relations.” And on the 100th anniversary of the Wounded Knee Massacre (1890-1990), Columbus Day became Native American Day in South Dakota.

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