Decolonizing American Holidays

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February is a month with a free Monday. It’s free because people employed in full-time jobs are usually given the day off with holiday pay. We all love those paid days off. I wonder if those paid days off, like the Monday we just had for President’s Day, help our minds remain colonized.

Some of us have no clue why the post office, hospital, tribal offices, etc. are closed every third Monday in February. Some people who work full-time look forward to a paid day off as one of the fringe benefits of non-essential employees. Businesses, however, jump at the chance to sell us their products with their President’s Day sales, which actually run a whole week.

President’s Day is a federal holiday created to honor George Washington, whose birthday was this month. Later, Abraham Lincoln was added since he was also born in February. Even though it is a recognized holiday, some organizations don’t honor it as such and are open during regular business hours.

On a tribal level, there isn’t much fanfare about President’s Day in Indian Country. Some tribal colleges have classes as usual on President’s Day. Many federal and state government employees have a paid day off. Most of us will agree that the sitting President of the United States (POTUS) doesn’t give Lakota people much to celebrate about. There isn’t a lot for us to commemorate, unless we are one of the fortunate people with a full-time job who is getting paid to enjoy a day off from work.

In addition, the tribal government structure many of us know wasn’t created to align with traditional Lakota form of governance. The Indian Reorganization Act of 1934 forced a largely foreign way of governance down many Indigenous tribes’ throats. Still, it’s the governance structure we currently operate from. It’s up to our people to find creative ways to promote genuine, contemporary Lakota leadership.

Indian Country uses lots of American holidays as a time to celebrate culture. Today, many wacipis or other cultural celebrations are scheduled to coincide with the holidays we all see marked on the Gregorian calendar. New Year’s Day, Valentine’s day, Easter, Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, etc. are times when our people celebrate culture by participating in a wacipi or round dance.

Just like the dominant society taking what once was a time for ceremony – such as Winter Solstice and converting it into something Christian, like Christmas – our people can now choose to celebrate the dominant society’s observances with cultural gatherings. It’s another way to decolonize the wasicu holidays. Our children don’t have to see us blindly following holidays listed on the calendars we have in our homes. We can shift our focus from what everyone else in the country is doing to observe a certain “Day” by celebrating Lakota culture.

Traditional Lakota society never recognized any presidents or holidays in our government structure. The leaders were chosen for their ability to maintain camp order. There was shared leadership in our Tiospaye and it was respected by all. There was no such thing as popular vote in the Oceti Sakowin.

This President’s Day, many Lakota people choose to remember their own tribal leaders. These leaders include not only our tribal government elected officials, but also our traditional leaders who are fluent Lakota speakers working to keep our language and ways of life alive. We still have living Itancan in our communities and this is also a time to remember everything they’ve done for our families. We also have very special Lakota Itancan providing spiritual support in the form of Inipi and Lowanpi. There are many ways we can choose to celebrate our Lakota family, tribe, culture and ceremony.

Vi Waln (Lakota) is an award-winning Journalist. She can be reached through email viwaln@gmail.com

 

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