Indigenous People's Day Interview with Matt Remle, Editor of Last Real Indians

Community Engagement

On the second Monday of October 2014, Seattle became the third place in the United States to acknowledge Indigenous Peoples Day, a proposal that was originally made to the United Nations by the American Indian Movement in 1977. In the past four years, it has spread to over 70 places in the United States and has locally become a day to celebrate global Indigenous cultures.

We'll be celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day on KEXP by highlighting Indigenous musicians throughout The Afternoon Show with guest host Gabriel Teodros and on El Sonido with DJ Miss Ashley, in addition to special interviews like this one with Matt Remle, editor and writer for Last Real Indians.

On The HIstory of Indigenous People's day

Remle: So for me personally, some of the local actions and local work really began in the late 90s, early 2000s, when I moved to Seattle from Bellingham. And One of the first things I did is I reached out to Cecile Hansen of the Duwamish Tribe, who is chairwoman and introduced myself, and said, "Hey there's this event that the City of Seattle is sponsoring and I'd like to do an action against it. I'm a guest on your homelands, though." So doing a proper protocol thing, in reaching out and introducing who I am -- and kind of getting blessings for lack of a better word -- and invited her to come speak at it. The event was the City of Seattle was bringing in replicas of the Columbus ships. We didn't think that was a good thing to do. We had some actions against it, did little direct actions, tried to raise awareness on why celebrating Columbus in Seattle was a bad thing, above and beyond the fact that there is a federal holiday. After that, there was a number of years of, just, abolish Columbus Day protests. Where a lot of that was centered was out of Denver. So locally in Seattle, a number of folks would hold a kind of annual abolish Columbus Day protests you see down at Westlake or something. And then when you're decided, "Why don't we try something on the local level? There's clearly no movement taking place on the federal level." Movement in the sense of getting elected officials to make any movement to abolish it. But why not on the local level?

On How Indigenous People's Day Was Named

Remle: People ask, "Why Indigenous Peoples Day and why not American Indian Day Native American Day?" Couple things behind that. Earlier when we were talking about the American Indian movement and International Indian Treaty Council, that's what they were asking for. It's only appropriate that we honor the legacy of the work that they were doing. It's not only honoring their legacy but when we say "indigenous peoples," it's referring to more than just the tribes of colonized United States. We're talking about all indigenous peoples who've been impacted by settler colonialism around the world. We want to represent and acknowledge the Tainos. They're the ones that first faced Columbus.

On How Indigenous People's Day Grew

Remle: That first week of October is when the vote happened. We secured the number of votes and had a celebration that day. So we actually had our first celebration on the day that it was signed. I had folks from all over just emailing, messaging, saying, "We want to do something similar in our city. Can you help us out?" It's like, "Absolutely." Local folks from Bellingham, Olympia, folks out in upstate New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, San Francisco, a lot of places that we just worked with, and basically just gave our template and then just said, "This is how we went about it." Because I'm a real big believer in local grassroots organizing. We can provide tools on whatever issue it is, but we have to empower local communities to do the organizing. One person has just gone around trying to do it all, you know. That's not sustainable and that's not productive.

KEXP: So from that year, in 2014, it was two, and then Seattle and Minneapolis was four, and in the last four years it spread to 70.

Remle: Yes. And that includes the state of Alaska.

KEXP: Wow. That's incredible. I'm inspired.

On Celebrating Indigenous People's Day

Remle: It's obviously about righting a wrong. There should never be a day celebrating Columbus, for obvious reasons. It's also a celebration of the amazing resiliency of indigenous peoples, period. Globally indigenous peoples, and the survival despite genocide, despite settler colonialism, despite ethnic cleansing, despite all that by boarding schools and assimilation attempts, that indigenous peoples are still here are relearning languages, who kept songs alive, who have kept ceremonies alive, who have kept this way of life alive. So it's also about celebrating. Because we can now go protest something, but we also need to celebrate the beauty of who we are globally. That's why we've been very deliberate on that day of keeping it about celebration, the whole array of indigenous cultures. This year we got Tainos coming in, we got Aztecs coming in, Alaska natives coming in, and bringing it all together and celebrating coming together to share a meal to celebrate, to sing, to do song and dance with one another, maybe a little trade or whatever. It's also about bringing back some of some of that as well.

On What Columbus Day Celebrates

Remle: When bringing up Columbus we use his own journal writings. The journal writings of his own crew, Columbus's writings himself, because they indict themselves. So we didn't have to get into arguments of, "This my belief system versus your belief system." We're simply saying this man brags about being the most prolific slave trader in history. You know he bragged about that. He bragged about the number of African slaves he was bringing over, native girls who were aged 10, 11, and bringing them back into sex slavery back in Europe. Where he writes about this, how much money he could make essentially for bringing back a ten-year-old native girl. This is information he brought out. This is Columbus himself is talking about. This is who you're celebrating.

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