Origins of Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Though the holiday has existed since the 70s, it wasn’t until 2021 that Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first addressed as a holiday by the executive office of the United States. Falling on the same day as Columbus Day, this holiday exists to recognize the plight of Indigenous peoples in the United States and celebrate Indigenous culture. Long before that first federal recognition, Western Colorado University student Timberlin Henderson made it his mission to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a county holiday in Gunnison County. On October 4th, 2016, he was successful in his attempts.
Motivation for Change
“What gave me the idea to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day was the pure fact that I knew many voices needed to be heard other than my own,” said Henderson. “There is always a struggle for an Indigenous person to explain themselves for who they are due to the fact that history never wanted to hear both sides of the story.”
Henderson, who graduated from Western in 2018 with a degree in Biology, saw that many states were making the change of recognizing Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and decided it was the right thing to do. While the change was somewhat controversial, Henderson said the process was a positive experience for him and his community.
“I thought being a part of this movement would benefit the community in welcoming more indigenous culture so that we may learn more about who people are rather than stigmatizing and stereotyping,” Henderson said.
Though he worked alongside the county, Henderson said Western’s Multicultural Center was the biggest supporter in his pursuit of this change.
“At this place, I was surrounded by many positive people who were inspiring in their own ways. With the help of faculty and students in the MCC, they were able to spread the word to where a change could be made,” said Henderson.
Encouragement for Community Involvement
Henderson encourages Western students to look for places where they can make change in the community. He advises starting with the community youth and learning what’s impacting their lives to make a change.
Aside from his activism work in the community, Henderson was also on Western’s Cross Country and Track and Field team for his freshman and sophomore years. After that, he went on to run for the Mountain Sports Train Running team to finish out his junior and senior years. Henderson also served as President of the Native American Student Council. His active role in the Western community is still sensed in the changes he made during his time here. As much as Henderson impacted Western, he was affected by Western all the same.
A Sense of Home
“I love Western. Period. Everything about it,” said Henderson. “For me, it will always be home. The mountains and community have always been so kind and generous to me to the point where I just feel spoiled there. Spoiled with love and the luxurious outdoors. Western is a paradise for me, and it’s a place where I have made a family.”