Indigenous Peoples’ Day Policy Brief

To:  A Town Council

From: Libby Schwaner, MPP Student at the Carsey School of Public Policy

Date:   September 2, 2020

Re:  Indigenous Peoples’ Day Policy Recommendations


Columbus Day should be replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day at the state level in New Hampshire. However, this goal is unattainable without towns and cities implementing the change first. Municipalities across the state should show their support for a more culturally sensitive holiday by celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October. This effort is vital to the correct representation and respect for Indigenous peoples’ heritage and contemporary contributions to New Hampshire. In order for the replacement to be successful, towns and cities should have public education campaigns and opportunities before, during, and after the holiday to raise awareness for the change.


To develop the recommendations in this brief, I have conducted both in-person and online video interviews. The interviewees were (1) Indigenous people living in New Hampshire in the Seacoast region and (2) local legislators and citizens who took part or are currently taking part in town-level efforts to introduce Indigenous Peoples’ Day. There were seven participants in total. This project was IRB approved as a part of the Pr. Peshkova and Mr. Pouliot collaborative research, “Indigenous NH Rising: No Rez, No Tribe In addition, I carried out a limited literature review of the history of Indigenous people in New Hampshire and of decolonial methods of research.

The guiding pedagogy for this brief is intersectionality-based policy analysis (IBPA), a “framework for decolonizing policy processes” (Fridkin, 2012, p. 116). It is important to note that this brief does not attempt to stay politically or socially neutral; it has aims to effect more equitable policies “through social activism and transformative change” (Fridkin, 2012, p. 118). Indigenous Peoples’ Day represents the first step toward a more equitable community in New Hampshire.

A Note on Terminology

During each interview with Indigenous participants, the interviewees were asked how they self-identified (Indian, Native American, etc.). The majority responded that they prefer the term Indigenous, though other answers included Native American and First Nations. Most also replied that it depends on their audience. However, because the majority of respondents prefer ‘Indigenous,’ I will use this term throughout the brief to refer to people who have ancestors who lived in the Americas before European invasion, who have ongoing connections to the lands and waterways on the two continents.

Issue Analysis

Brief History and Current Status of Indigenous People in New Hampshire

According to archaeological data, Indigenous peoples have lived in New Hampshire for more than 12,000 years and have inhabited North American for at least 24,000 years (Bunker, 2002; Burgeon et al., 2017). They are the original and rightful inhabitants of this state. Despite the common belief that the Indigenous peoples died off long ago, there are still thousands living in New Hampshire. According to the 2010 Census, there were just over 3,300 people who claimed Native American or Native Hawaiian/Pacific Islander heritage (Office of Strategic Initiatives, 2010). Despite the deep history and continued presence of Indigenous people in this region, New Hampshire has no federally or state recognized tribes. This lack of recognition contributes to the problem of awareness for Indigenous peoples’ heritage and current contributions to the state. Another factor contributing to the lack of recognition is the repeated dismissal of state bills to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Two bills have entered the New Hampshire State Congress, and both have been dismissed after the congressional session expired while the bills were tabled. The most recent, HB 221, was tabled twice, after several testimonies from Indigenous and non-Indigenous people alike. The tabling eventually resulted in the bill’s dismissal. Symbolically, this represents a recurring rejection of Indigenous peoples’ heritage and presence in the state.

Lack of Recognition

According to every one of the Indigenous participants interviewed, the symbolic recognition of Indigenous peoples is why Indigenous Peoples’ Day is important to them. With no governmentally recognized tribes, New Hampshire currently has no legislation that recognizes its Indigenous citizens. Indigenous participants feel that they are being ignored and that Indigenous Peoples’ Day would help them feel more a part of the New Hampshire community. One Indigenous woman says:

“We’re woven within the fabrics of the community so tightly that they can’t see us. So because we’ve always been here, we’ve always had to adapt. We’ve always had to blend and hide. You know, we’ve been your neighbors for hundreds of years, but yet you still can’t see us through the trees. So we’ve always been here, we’ll always be here.”

One Indigenous woman points out that local Indigenous people have become nearly invisible to the average non-Indigenous New Hampshirite because they’ve been forced to adapt to mainstream American culture. Without overt, stereotypical signs of Indigenous ancestry, non-Indigenous people may not recognize their heritage. Additionally, because Indigenous people have married and had children with people of other ethnicities, many contemporary Indigenous people do not have the stereotypical physiological features recognized as by the general public ‘Indian’ based on stereotypes perpetuated by Hollywood films and other media. One Indigenous woman says that people do not know her heritage is partially Indigenous because of her ‘white’ looks:

“But they wouldn’t look at me and think that I have any Native American in me, you know? I mean, I took on more of the Irish, you know, blue eyes…I think it’s difficult sometimes to realize that we are around.”

Since New Hampshire citizens do not necessarily recognize Indigenous people when they see them, this causes people to not believe they remain in the state. A town legislator, Rose, says that she isn’t aware of Indigenous people living in her town: “I guess I haven’t seen it as, like, an organized and visible presence.” This speaks not only to the missing ‘visibility’ of a physical Indigenous community but also ties into the fact that there are no state or federally recognized tribes in the state. Without a land reserve (known as a “reservation”) and what would be typical signifiers of Indigenous people, current New Hampshirites do not understand that there are still Indigenous people living in the state. Additionally, many people do not believe that Indigenous people still exist in general. One Indigenous woman explains that she has had non-Indigenous people tell her, “’Oh, my ancestors killed you all off! What are you still doing here?’” The belief that Indigenous people are all dead as the result of colonial genocide, though becoming less common according to the Indigenous interviewees, still encapsulates just how invisible Indigenous people are to the average citizen of New Hampshire.

Inadequate Education         

This lack of recognition is compounded by the lack of accurate history of Indigenous peoples taught in New Hampshire public schools. The New Hampshire state curriculum requires very little in the way of education on Indigenous peoples, and what is offered provides only a colonial perspective on events and Indigenous ways of life. One non-Indigenous advocate for minority rights explains that she had “had a very whitewashed history education around this subject [of Indigenous peoples].” In particular, the context of violence gives a very one-sided narrative. For example, a locally famous 17th-century attack on colonists is portrayed through monuments and common narratives as a one-sided, unprovoked killing of colonists when the context is more complicated. “People here talk about the massacre and do not even know that before the massacre was a massacre of 200 Native people,” an Indigenous woman says about the attacks. She feels that people only understand the European perspective and only see Indigenous people as ‘savages.’ The way that New Hampshire students learn about Indigenous people only reinforces negative stereotypes. Lessons on Indigenous history also end when colonists arrive, further perpetuating the myth that Indigenous people all were killed by European settlers. An Indigenous participant urges that people need to understand that, despite facing adversity for centuries, Indigenous people still live in New Hampshire: “This is our N’Dakinna, this is our homelands, you know, this is our world, and this is our connection with the universe. This is where we grew up. This is where… traditions are formed. This is where our religion is practiced. This is where our stories are passed down. Yeah, this is, this is home, always has been.”

Impact of Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Tuhiwai-Smith, a New Zealand Indigenous professor, author, and activist, argues that to repair the wounds of colonization left on Indigenous peoples, current governments must use methods such as “apologies, reparations, [and] reconciliation strategies” (2012, p. 365). Indigenous Peoples’ Day serves as a way to reconcile the past with the present while acknowledging the harm done to Indigenous communities and also committing to a common future. This notion is reflected in the reasons why Indigenous Peoples’ Day is important to the Indigenous participants of this study. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a good “first gesture” to start recognizing Indigenous peoples, according to an Indigenous man. With little to no recognition in the state of New Hampshire, creating a holiday to celebrate the people Indigenous to this area is a powerful first step to acknowledging and appreciating their presence in and contributions to the state. One Indigenous woman says that the simple fact of being recognized by the government means a great deal to long-ignored peoples: “It’s important for people to know that yes, they’re still, we’re still around.”

In addition, Indigenous interviewees said that stopping the celebration of Christopher Columbus was another motivating factor for Indigenous Peoples’ Day: “Equally important is to stop the celebration of a murderer, you know, a rapist, a kidnapper, a person who was never even here… It’s like me going to Germany and watching German people celebrate Hitler,” one Indigenous woman laments about witnessing Columbus Day celebrations. Indigenous peoples typically reject colonial narratives that paint Columbus as a hero, citing the genocide and torture he committed, along with the fact that he never stepped foot in North America. Indigenous peoples also object to the implication that Columbus discovered any land, since the Americas were settled “over millennia ago by Indigenous peoples.” Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day therefore represents not only the recognition of Indigenous peoples but the removal of an offensive reminder of colonial narratives.

Beyond just starting the process of properly recognizing Indigenous peoples, Indigenous Peoples’ Day benefits non-Indigenous people as well. One non-Indigenous woman, whose town implemented Indigenous Peoples’ Day a few years prior, explains, “Those of us who’ve been involved a lot and have gone into all the events and stuff…I think we feel like we’ve gotten quite an education from it.” Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an educational opportunity for everyone who has received misguided information, whether from school or other sources, and for those who lack knowledge altogether. It provides education and helps citizens embrace diversity, which leads to more informed and educated citizenry in the county. Furthermore, one Indigenous woman believes that Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates more than just Indigenous peoples: “It honors that we all came from somewhere.” Though it is centered around the Indigenous peoples of the Americas, “we’re all indigenous to somewhere” and therefore everyone is celebrated to an extent, she says. Indigenous Peoples’ Day not only represents recognition for Indigenous peoples but unity among New Hampshire citizens.

Town-Level Efforts

By implementing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, local Indigenous people would finally achieve some of their deserved recognition. However, it has become clear that the state will not act to inaugurate this holiday without outside efforts. To persuade the state that New Hampshire citizens are in favor of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, towns and cities should implement the holiday. One Indigenous woman explains that Indigenous people support this endeavor: “We would like to turn 12 to 15 towns before the fall. And so that way when we go in and resubmit the bill [for Indigenous Peoples’ Day], the State House will have absolutely no choice but to either vote yes or no on this bill because they’ll already have too many towns to ignore.”

With the only actions taken on Indigenous Peoples’ Day bills being to table it, one Indigenous woman hopes that municipalities adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day will force the state’s hand to make a definitive decision. She explains that grassroots and local efforts are “crucial” to the ultimate goal of getting the holiday celebrated state-wide. She has been an advocate for Indigenous peoples for decades in New Hampshire, but has not seen the support required to pass the bills she defends unless there is significant evidence of support elsewhere: “The state house will not listen to the average voter unless you have multiple municipalities willing to stand up. We’ve been in the State House for 30 years, 40 years doing this, trying to do different things. And it always gets shoved aside unless you have multiple towns standing behind you.” To get Indigenous Peoples’ Day adopted by the state, the first step is to have the holiday implemented by towns and cities.

Strategic Recommendations

Educational Events

Though implementing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an achievement in and of itself, ensuring that people are aware of the change is paramount to contributing to the proper recognition of Indigenous people in the Granite State. Providing educational opportunities for the public has proven to be an effective strategy for municipalities that have implemented the change. One non-Indigenous woman says that when planning her town’s educational opportunities and celebratory events, “it wasn’t just a single day by any means.” Holding events before the day garners attention for the holiday and ensures that people realize that Columbus Day will no longer be celebrated. Further, having multiple types of events on different days of the week and at different times enables the largest number of people to attend the events. Programs such as arts workshops, cultural lectures, movie screenings, open-forum discussion, musical or dance performances, and child-friendly crafts give people with a wide range of interests an incentive to attend and learn and become aware of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Inclusion of Indigenous Planners

Whenever possible, Indigenous people should be the leaders for organizing the holiday and its event, or as consultants if they are unable to commit the time to lead the efforts. Having input from Indigenous people not only ensures that any celebration is properly culturally sensitive, but also adds to Indigenous Peoples’ Day’s goal of recognizing people with Indigenous heritage. It can also lead to a more successful outcome overall. According to a non-Indigenous woman, whose town’s events were well-attended, “five indigenous people” contributed to the planning of the events.


Social media has become one of the most effective tools for attracting attention to events. Creating Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and other social media accounts to advertise for the holiday and its events can draw in larger audiences. Other effective means of advertisement include posting flyers in public areas, placing ads in local newspapers, and advertising on local news stations. Using multiple methods of advertisement will draw a more diverse group to each event.


Because Indigenous Peoples’ Day replaces Columbus Day, there can be large backlash from communities that support the celebration of Columbus Day. Italian Americans specifically can take offense to a holiday they see as celebrating a hero from their culture being taken away.

Events for Indigenous Peoples’ Day can come with a cost, depending on the events planned. Hiring Indigenous people to run workshops or give performances or lectures costs money. Supplies for crafting and streaming rights for movies may also have a financial cost. However, the total amount of money spent is up to each town’s discretion.


Despite the very few limitations to implementing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the holiday’s recognition of Indigenous peoples outweighs any negative feedback that may come with it. The state of New Hampshire is long overdue in their adoption of this holiday but despite multiple efforts, it has not yet passed a bill implementing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. With enough towns making the change, the next proposal to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day may finally be accepted.


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