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Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The Auburn City Council will hold a special meeting Monday where October 12, 2020, will be proclaimed Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Auburn. Auburn Councilmember Chris Stearns, the first Native American to serve on the Auburn City Council, shares his thoughts on the proclamation:

chris stearns, councilmember chris stearns, auburn wa chris stearns
Auburn Councilmember Chris Stearns

I am so proud that our city, the City of Auburn, is choosing to honor and recognize Monday, October 12, 2020, as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  In doing so, Auburn joins over 130 cities and states across our nation that recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  We are blessed in Auburn to share land and history with our neighbors, the Muckleshoot Tribe, and the Muckleshoot people, as well as the many Salish nations in the surrounding region. And I am grateful to Auburn Mayor Nancy Backus for proclaiming this Monday as Indigenous Peoples’ Day – the first, but not last, in our city’s history.

Today there are 574 federally recognized Indian nations in the United States, of which 29 are in Washington State.  These tribes are sovereign nations, and their members are citizens of their own tribe, citizens of the state they live in, and, since 1924, citizens of the United States.  Indigenous peoples have stewarded the land, created thriving cultures, and governed themselves in North America for tens of thousands of years.

According to the U.S. Census, there are 6.9 million Native Americans living in the United States, which is about 2% of the country’s total population.

Yet Native American people have had to overcome wars, disease, forced relocations, and even federal programs intended to terminate their tribal status. My own mother was part of the federal relocation program in the 1960s which moved Native people away from their reservations and into large cities with the goal of assimilating them into a non-Indian culture. As a Navajo teenager, she moved from a small village on the Navajo reservation to Los Angeles.

Here in our state, Native peoples have had to fight to preserve their right to fish and hunt. To many, Native Americans remain an invisible and poorly understood people.

And that is why Indigenous Peoples’ Day is so important.  It pushes back on this invisibility. People of all ages and cultures can celebrate Native peoples and honor our culture, history, and achievements in a dignified way. We can honor the achievements of those who fought to preserve tribal treaty rights to salmon fishing in Washington, and of those young leaders who traveled from Washington to Standing Rock to fight for the environment.

This is the day in which we all can take time to better understand our Native neighbors in the region and the nation and ask ourselves: how can I be a better friend, neighbor, and ally to them.

Let’s ask ourselves how we can learn more about the proud culture and traditions of the Muckleshoot people. Let’s learn more about the amazing Tribal Canoe Journey which takes place over two months each summer and brings together over 100 canoe families from tribes in Washington, Oregon, British Columbia, California and Alaska. In 2022, the Canoe Journey will culminate on Muckleshoot lands with a great feast and celebration that will last over a week.

I hope that once this terrible pandemic ends, we can celebrate future Indigenous Peoples’ Days in Auburn with ceremonies, symposiums, concerts, lectures, art, food, and rallies.

On Monday, I believe with all my heart that we will be a stronger community and better souls for it. And while we are celebrating indigenous history and achievements, let’s remember that Indigenous People’s Day is really about the future. A future built on the resilience and strength of our ancestors and elders. A future built on the optimism and imagination of our youth. And a future in which we know that we are bound together by a common concern for one other. As the great Chief Seattle said, “This we know, all things are connected like the blood which unites one family.  All things are connected.”


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2 Comments

  1. Traci Buxton Traci Buxton October 12, 2020

    Thank you, Chris!

  2. Donny Stevenson Donny Stevenson October 12, 2020

    Very well said Councilman Stearns! Thank you for your inclusive leadership and focus on unity. It is truly inspirational to see the presence of Native American leaders; such as yourself, taking up important leadership roles in local government. All of our local Auburn citizens and residents will certainly benefit because of it!

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