For the first time, Mineral County today is celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day, a significant move for a county in rural Nevada, where Native communities still face obstacles to getting recognized, even as Indigenous Peoples’ Day is increasingly celebrated across the nation.
In the past, the Western Nevada county, where a portion of the Walker River Paiute Tribe’s reservation is located, has only celebrated Columbus Day on the second Monday of October. But this year the rural county joins the state’s urban centers in declaring the day to honor its Paiute community, furthering a trend to recognize the people native to this land rather than focus the holiday solely on an explorer who sparked the colonization that led to their oppression.
Last week, the Mineral County Board of Commissioners voted unanimously to proclaim Monday Indigenous Peoples’ Day after Walker River Paiute Tribe Chairman Amber Torres asked that they take up the issue.
“We are your neighbor, in good standing, just 30 miles from you,” Torres told the commissioners during their Wednesday meeting. “Our children attend your school, our members live and work in your community, and we collaborate and support the efforts of Mineral County. We feel we are, too, Mineral County, although we run our own sovereign nation. It is time to acknowledge the First Nations peoples that were here when Columbus arrived.”
More than a dozen states and cities, including Nevada, Reno and Las Vegas, have chosen to honor Native Americans on the federal holiday celebrating explorer Christopher Columbus as the person who discovered the Americas, despite the fact that Indigenous people had been living across the continent for tens of thousands of years, if not more. Columbus Day has been a holiday since 1934, when it was approved by then-President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
The Biden administration this year became the first to proclaim Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
A law approved in 2017 by then-Gov. Brian Sandoval established an annual Indigenous Peoples’ Day on August 9. But tribal leaders and members argued that recognition in August didn’t go far enough to educate the public about the ways colonization affected Native American people in the Great Basin. As a result, organizers have increasingly turned to local governments to ensure that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is recognized on Columbus Day.
Reno City Council members voted in 2019 to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day and, though a similar proposal failed in Clark County the same year, it succeeded in 2020. The Clark County resolution carries the caveat that Indigenous Peoples’ Day does not replace Columbus Day in Southern Nevada; it is recognized in addition to it.
Even as the state’s urban areas have increasingly recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday of October, with resolutions and by hosting public events, some tribal leaders have struggled to get rural county governments to do the same.
That’s one reason the Mineral County resolution is so significant. Cassie Hall, the Mineral County commissioner who proposed the proclamation, said the move was not unprecedented.
“This was the right thing to do to support our friends and neighbors in their mission to acknowledge, educate, and celebrate their history and culture,” Hall wrote in an email to The Nevada Independent. “Our decision today made no mention of doing away with Columbus Day and people’s right to commemorate that should they choose to do so.”
Torres said she felt “very appreciative” that the county moved forward with the proclamation.
But even as Mineral County moved to approve the resolution, commissioners for Lyon County — which shares a border with Mineral County — didn’t get that far. The topic sparked debate, but commissioners ultimately couldn’t agree on a proclamation. The commission ultimately decided to take up the issue at a meeting next month.
Torres had also requested that the Churchill County Board of Commissioners consider a similar proclamation, but said the board denied her request to make a presentation.
The Nevada Independent did not receive responses after reaching out to all Churchill County commissioners for comment last week.
This portion of the article is shared as part of our collaboration with The Nevada Independent. This story was originally published on October 11, 2021, and written by Jazmin Orozco Rodriguez.