While Columbus Day is still a federally recognized holiday, Alaska celebrates Indigenous Peoples' Day on the second Monday of October. Washington, D.C. and 13 states have rebranded the holiday as part of a nationwide movement. The designation was signed into Alaska law two years ago. 

Paul Ongtooguk, Director of Alaska Native Studies at the University of Alaska Anchorage, says the legislation is a recognition of Alaska's first peoples' thousands of years-long tenure in the state, and commemoration of indigenous knowledge. 

"It's just a celebration that we continue to not only be here, but we're an important, vital part of both the culture and the economy of the state of Alaska today and going forward," Ongtooguk said. 

According to the National Congress of American Indians, Alaska has the largest indigenous population proportionally. Columbus Day has become controversial because of documentation revealing policies of violence and slavery of indigenous peoples. 

"Throughout his years in the New World, Columbus enacted policies of forced labor in which natives were put to work for the sake of profits," notes a History article on the topic. "Later, Columbus sent thousands of peaceful Taino 'Indians' from the island of Hispaniola to Spain to be sold. Many died en route."

The article continues to describe Columbus' "iron discipline" as governor and viceroy of the Indies. 

"In response to native unrest and revolt, Columbus ordered a brutal crackdown in which many natives were killed; in an attempt to deter further rebellion, Columbus ordered their dismembered bodies to be paraded through the streets," the article states. 

Ongtooguk describes it as a dark chapter in American history.

"To actually read his material, his journals and his activities, it's sketchy that somebody named a holiday after him," Ongtooguk said. 

Ongtooguk is one of two speakers on Alaska Native Voices and Environmental Conservation Movements in Alaska.

"A part of it will folding in how views of indigenous people have developed over time," he said.

He says he hopes that some of the discussion includes questions about the ongoing issues of tribal jurisdiction, native corporations, private property and identity.

"It's a wonderful thing to look at this as a way to re-understand our history as a state, native and non-native peoples," Ongtooguk said.

The presentation takes place from 4-6 p.m. on Monday at the UAA/APU Consortium Library, Room 307. 

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