Indigenous Peoples Day in Alaska

Alaska was the second state behind South Dakota to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day.
Published: Oct. 10, 2022 at 12:38 PM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Alaska was the second state behind South Dakota to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day.

The grassroots effort of conversations started well before it eventually became law in 2017. University of Alaska Anchorage Psychology Professor E.J. David was instrumental in getting the idea off the ground.

“I figured well, what can we do for the state of Alaska given that Alaska has the highest percentage of Indigenous peoples among all 50 states and so I thought well, I think it’s time for Alaska to finally recognize Indigenous Peoples Day,” David said.

A Filipino immigrant himself and married to an Alaska Native woman, David tapped into the state’s diverse community for support, and eventually local and state government officials. During 2015 and 2016, it was just a yearly proclamation, but the fact that it was becoming normalized to celebrate such a day is what David feels helped push the proclamation to become law.

“I was very proud of that moment,” David said. “To see Governor Walker sign the bill into law and to make it permanent right — that every second Monday of October is going to be Indigenous Peoples Day — It was a huge win I think for all Alaskans. But at the same time I knew, that at that moment when he signed that bill in Utqiagvik, you know, I also was remembering the work of all of the people behind the scenes right, because I understood how much more people it took and how much work it took than just one singular person signing a piece of paper at that moment,” David said.

Ayyu Qassataq with the First Alaskans Institute was also part of that group of people that worked with David to get the word out.

“I really love and appreciate that our brother E.J. was the one who really stood up and said ‘hey, we have an opportunity here to recognize and acknowledge Alaska’s Indigenous peoples,’” Qassataq said. “He did it as an ally, as a friend, as a family member, as a loved one and as someone who deeply cares about this place.”

Qassataq also remembers the moment the city and state proclamations were unveiled at the 2015 Elders and Youth Conference, which also happened to fall on Indigenous Peoples Day.

“You could feel the energy in the room,” Qassataq said. “It was one of the first times in that kind of space that our people felt recognized, valued, and seen in that kind of way. It was really, really powerful.”

The 39th Annual statewide Elders and Youth Conference is Oct. 16-19 at the Dena’ina Center, followed by the Alaska Federation of Natives convention from Oct. 20-22.

“The work that led up to that moment I think is a great example of how people from different cultures, from different communities, can work together to become allies and support the Indigenous peoples of these lands,” David said.