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Cheyenne Chiefs 1927 – Curtis Family Collection. Image courtesy of the Curtis Legacy Foundation.

One could be forgiven (somewhat) for being confused about this Monday, October 9, which is a national holiday. What for decades was celebrated as Columbus Day is now Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This national holiday recognizes the Native American Peoples who were here on this continent long before the Italian Christopher Columbus arrived here, and celebrates their histories and cultures.

The change has only come recently. U.S. President Joe Biden became the first U.S. President to formally recognize the holiday on October 8, 2021; signing a presidential proclamation that year declaring October 11, 2021, to be a national holiday.

The recognition is long overdue; finally designated a movement led by America’s Indigenous peoples that in their view “demonstrates to society that we are still here and proud to celebrate our culture.”

Depending upon where you live in the United States, the day has also been called First People’s Day, National Indigenous Peoples Day, or Native American Day. Others still reference it as Columbus Day — which it should be pointed out celebrates a painful story of European domination over the cultures and peoples who were already here.

Of course, we of Scandinavian heritage have had our noses out of joint for some time now, about who actually “discovered” America. The Norse explorer Leif Eriksson led the first European expedition to North America more than 500 years before Columbus was even born. So those of us who were taught that Europeans arrived in 1492 (and so the story goes … sailed the Ocean Blue) and then proceeded to civilize the natives have some actual history to absorb.

Icelandic legends, called sagas, recounted Eriksson’s exploits in the New World around A.D. 1000 leading his Vikings from Greenland to the edge of North America in Newfoundland and Vineland. These Norse stories were spread by word of mouth before becoming recorded in the Scandinavian written record in the 12th and 13th centuries.

The Viking settlement known now as L’Anse aux Meadows (where the remains of buildings were found in 1960) dates back to approximately 1,000 years ago. There is evidence of Norse trade with the natives (whom the Norse called the Skræling ). From the range of their settlements and according to the Sagas, the Norse would have encountered both Native Americans (the Beothuk, related to the Algonquin) and the Thule, the ancestors of the Inuit.

Here in Central Colorado, including Chaffee and Park counties, the Native People indigenous to the area were/are the Utes.

All this by way of saying — the people who were here first — were the native peoples, and the resilience of their unique cultures in the face of generational injustices is finally being celebrated.