Celebrating Heritage, Embracing Diversity

Eau Claire should be proud to recognize its first-ever Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 8

Nicole Withers

The writer at the Labor Day Pow Wow in Black River Falls
The writer at the Labor Day Pow Wow in Black River Falls

Monday, Oct. 8, will be the first official Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the city of Eau Claire. A year ago, the Eau Claire City Council passed a resolution declaring the second Monday in October – which is many places is recognized as Columbus Day – as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.As an Indigenous woman, this day means a lot to me. I quote a status I posted on Oct. 9, 2017, before the resolution was approved the next day: “I was the first speaker in support of the resolution to have Columbus Day changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day here in Eau Claire at the City Council meeting. I never expected so much support.”

I was raised with traditional values passed down from previous generations within my tribe. It was obvious to those I went to school with that I looked different from them, and oftentimes I faced racism in many different ways. ... I persevered beyond the racism because I wasn’t going to let what bullies said to me affect me in the long run.

It’s true. I never did expect so much support from others in Eau Claire. I had presented a logical approach to why this day should be changed. My husband (who is white) was fully supportive of me and even got up to speak about why he thought the day should be changed to Indigenous Peoples’ Day because of all the Native Americans who serve our country.

There were many others who spoke in support who are members of my tribe, and it made me so happy to see that our people had a voice in this conversation. There were those in opposition to this day because of what Christopher Columbus represents to them, but they were a minority voice when it came to the vote the following night. The resolution was passed on a 9-to-2 vote by the City Council.

My Indian name is Ahu-pinga (Good Wing), I am a member of the Ho-Chunk Nation (formerly the Winnebago Tribe), and I grew up in the small town of Augusta, where diversity wasn’t common. I was raised with traditional values passed down from previous generations within my tribe. It was obvious to those I went to school with that I looked different from them, and oftentimes I faced racism in many different ways from name-calling to war calls to taunts for me to “go back to my teepee on my reservation.”

I persevered beyond the racism because I wasn’t going to let what bullies said to me affect me in the long run. That isn’t to say that other Indigenous people are the same way. This shouldn’t be an issue anymore, but it still is. It took so long for our city to recognize that Christopher Columbus wasn’t a man to be celebrated and that change should happen. However, the federal government and many states still recognizes the day as a holiday.

I feel that Eau Claire’s decision to embrace diversity by celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day will prevent future generations from going through what I went through in school, and that it will teach others about neighboring tribes within the community.

For instance, this past year I danced at our nation’s pow wow in Black River Falls at the Andrew Blackhawk Pow Wow Grounds. I am a traditional applique dancer, and I am proud to show my heritage. The regalia I wear was hand-made by Elena Greendeer who is also a traditional dancer. We are called “Hinuk wasiwarupira” (“the women who know how to dance”), and we dance so beautifully.

I believe that Indigenous people in our community should put something together similar to the pow wow held each year at UW-Eau Claire. This celebration could be prepared for a future Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I’m proud to be Indigenous, and on Oct. 8 I will be celebrating the victory of this day, which recognizes that even though many bad things have happened to us, we are still here and we are not going anywhere.

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