Indigenous People’s Day highlights the importance of history

On Monday, Indigenous Peoples Day celebrated its second year of being recognized as a national holiday. Indigenous Peoples Day focuses on highlighting indigenous people and communities, namely their perspectives and history in the educational systems. 

Megan Heutmaker, Minnesota State Mankato’s Director of American Indian and Multicultural Affairs, said that since there are over 563 federally recognized tribal nations across the U.S., each community celebrates Indigenous Peoples Day differently. 

“Communities have differences in cultures, languages and histories, so if you look at Minneapolis, the Minneapolis American Indian Center has had performers like hoop dancers come or drum groups. For the last couple of years here, we’ve found books that are connected to indigenous topics. That’s really important,” Heutmaker said.

Over the weekend, MSU hosted a variety of activities from a screening of the film “Gather” and a festival with food trucks and live music. While Mankato’s city council officially recognized Indigenous Peoples Day in 2018, it was only nationally declared a holiday in 2022. Last year, President Joe Biden proclaimed that Indigenous Peoples Day would be celebrated on the second Monday of October, the same as Columbus Day. Heutmaker said that for the city of Mankato, it was intentional to have it coincide on the same day. 

“The purpose comes from the idea that the histories we’re taught in our schools and educational systems only focus on one perspective. It’s flagrant to say you’ve discovered a place where there were already hundreds of thousands of indigenous people living there,” Heutmaker said. “Indigenous Peoples Day has tried to include that there’s more than just that dominant narrative we’ve been taught in schools for many years.”

Indigenous Peoples Day holds special significance in the city of Mankato as the city was the site of the largest mass execution of in U.S. history. President Abraham Lincoln ordered the execution of 38 Dakota men Dec. 26, 1862. Heutmaker said Indigenous Peoples Day helps to have reconciliation and remembrance for indigenous and American Indian people. 

“Mankato has a dark history in connection to the American community, specifically the Dakota community. Many of us on the Indigenous Peoples Day committee are connected to the Mahkato Wacipi which reconciles the history as well. The importance of continuing to have events like this shows American Indian people are welcome here in this town,” Heutmaker said.

While topics surrounding American Indians have been discussed more in the last few years, Heutmaker said raising awareness and representation for American Indians starts in educational systems. Heutmaker added that, while more accurate histories need to be taught, American Indians need to be taught about in modern society.

“In your sixth grade history class, you talk about everything up to the Trail of Tears and then you don’t really talk about [American Indian history] anymore. The contributions of American Indian people are often hidden because we only teach a lot of things from a dominant historical perspective,” Heutmaker said. “The more we can learn as a community, the more we can read things that are written by native authors that we can engage in learning about what indigenous folks are doing today.”

Heutmaker said that people are always welcome to engage with Indigenous People in the community in order to better understand the accurate history of American Indians, keep the culture alive and learn that American Indian people still exist. 

“We’re still doing amazing things. We’re leaders, lawyers, doctors and teachers,” said Heutmaker. “We’re still here.”

Header Photo: Indigenous People’s Day has been recognized in Mankato since 2018, but only last year did President Joe Biden declare the second Monday in October Indigenous People’s Day nationwide. (Dylan Engel/The Reporter)

Write to Emma Johnson at

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