Indigenous Peoples Day was observed Monday in D.C., Maryland and Virginia — with Virginia recognizing the holiday this year for the first time.
Gov. Ralph Northam said in a minute-long video that observation of the day is a step toward building a more inclusive state.
“Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates the resilience of our tribal communities and promotes reconciliation, healing and continued friendship with Virginia’s Indian tribes,” he said.
A proclamation by the governor names each of Virginia’s 11 state-recognized Indian tribes, including the Rappahannock Tribe and Monacan Indian Nation. The document doesn’t mention Columbus Day. Northam’s proclamation recognizes the date this year, without mention of subsequent years.
D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser urged residents to “take a moment to rethink our history and recognize the first inhabitants of the Americas.”
“We’re reminded that the land we now inhabit belonged to the Nacostines; the Native American tribe that occupied Nacotchtank along the Anacostia,” Bowser said in a tweet.
Bowser signed an act of the D.C. Council last year to change the name of the holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.
In Maryland, individual jurisdictions recognized Indigenous Peoples Day. Montgomery County celebrated the holiday for the first time on Monday.
“Observing Indigenous Peoples Day recognizes the original occupants of these lands, their cultures and the sacrifices they were forced to make,” County Executive Marc Elrich said in a statement after issuing a proclamation.
The Prince George’s County Council approved an act last year to rename Columbus Day as Native American Day.
Columbus Day, named after 15th century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, has sparked debates as protesters around the world have called for institutions to reexamine their ties to leaders, military officers and other historical figures who some say are symbols of racism.
Native American advocates have also long pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day over concerns that Columbus spurred centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.
Others disagree, including some Italian Americans who say Columbus Day represents Italian heritage.
The Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian had five suggestions for celebrating, including reading the work of an indigenous writer and helping “teach a more truthful history of Columbus.”
Gem Labarta, a cultural interpreter at the museum, said the goal of the holiday is express gratitude to ancestors.
“Indigenous Peoples Day is not to erase the history of Columbus, [but] rather to share our side of what happened. It’s to magnify our voices to ensure that all Americans hear the whole truth of this story,” Labarta said.