For many people in the United States, the second Monday of October is a day to honor Indigenous people and their ancestors. Whether you know the day to be Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Native American Day, First Peoples’ Day, or Discoverers’ Day (Hawaii), the day honors Indigenous people, their cultures, their histories, and their perseverance. The day also celebrates the contributions of Native Americans to contemporary society and honors tribal sovereignty.
In 1992, the city of Berkeley, California, was the first locale to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus Day.1 Berkeley formally renamed the holiday to show respect to Indigenous people and protest the legacy of violence and genocide against Native peoples led by Christopher Columbus and other European explorers. The city even declared 1992 the Year of Indigenous People.
Despite the 30-year history of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, it has yet to be codified federally. Nevertheless, observation has become more widespread over the years. Today, numerous state and local governments throughout the United States acknowledge the day in some way, whether as an observance or a public holiday. In 2021, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation to formally recognize Indigenous People’s Day,2 and Rep. Norma J. Torres (D-CA) introduced a bill in the US House of Representatives to designate it as a legal public holiday, replacing Columbus Day.3
Even if the holiday isn’t (yet) official where you live, your organization can still choose to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Here are a few key ways you can do so meaningfully.
Make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a Holiday
This one is simple: Declare it a company holiday! Observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is more inclusive than the federally recognized Columbus Day. As the HR Certification Institute points out, recognizing Columbus Day with paid time off “raises questions about equitable paid-time-off policies.”4 For some employees, the implications of observing Columbus Day may be emotionally painful.
HR professionals seeking to create more inclusive and equitable organizational cultures can also advocate for flexible paid time off policies. With a flexible PTO policy, people can take time off to observe days of personal significance at their own discretion. Inclusive to every demographic of employee, flexible PTO can be particularly impactful within global organizations.4
Keep the Programming Respectful
Make sure that any organizational programming is genuine and respectful. For advice on planning programming, Hogan recently spoke with Amanda Clinton, who is a Cherokee Nation citizen and the owner and principal of A. R. Clinton Strategies. Clinton spoke about the diversity of cultures across Native American communities and the importance of respectful, authentic programming.
Seek Indigenous Expertise
According to Clinton, a first step may be determining which of the federally recognized tribes in the United States may have a reservation, a seat of tribal government, or some other presence nearest to your organization. “If you are implementing an event, reach out to a federally recognized tribe and ask for advice on programming, speakers, demonstrations, or other ways to provide a meaningful experience,” she advised.
Cultural authenticity and recognition of tribal sovereignty are key, she told us. Tribal nations share a government-to-government relationship with the United States, which is the foundation of their right to self-governance and tribal sovereignty. Only tribal nations can determine citizenship or membership within their respective tribes. This right to self-determination may be based on kinship, a shared culture and heritage, or ties to a community. Hiring speakers who lack this shared experience or legitimate knowledge of Indigenous lifeways, cultures, and traditions could be problematic. It may also be offensive or uncomfortable for Native American employees with existing community and cultural ties to their tribe. Without proper consultation or vetting, even well-intentioned HR professionals might find that they’ve ended up offering misdirected education—doing more harm than good.
Clinton told us there are 574 federally recognized tribes, and each is eager to share their culture and heritage in their own way. Organizations located in certain areas of the country might need to look to other states within their region. Pennsylvania, for example, currently has no federally recognized tribes. Fortunately, the US Bureau of Indian Affairs has a useful database to facilitate your search.
Start Small and Be Thoughtful
When it comes to activities, “start small and be mindful of what you’re asking for,” Clinton suggested. Do you know if your organization employs any Native Americans, and if so, which tribal nations are represented in your employee base? Do your employees know one another? Many Native Americans may be hesitant to discuss their tribal affiliation in a day-to-day setting, but Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an opportunity for them to share their experiences.
And no matter what, she said, “don’t ask a tribal representative or speaker to share knowledge about sacred ceremonies, dances, or other sensitive topics that may not be for public consumption.” For instance, you might ask the tribe you contact to recommend a performer or storyteller. If you do, you should plan to compensate them for their time.
If you organize a book club, focus on books by Indigenous authors. Consider 2021 Pulitzer Prize winner The Night Watchman by Louise Erdrich (Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians). Another popular choice among book clubs is 2019 PEN/Hemingway Award winner There, There by Tommy Orange (Cheyenne and Arapaho). If the group has an interest in poetry, you might look to the work of three-term US Poet Laureate Joy Harjo (Muscogee Creek Nation).
Finally, don’t assume your Indigenous employees will necessarily want to participate in any events or activities you plan. They might not, and that’s OK. If you receive constructive feedback about your programming, be sure to listen to it carefully—but don’t expect that from them either.
Don’t Limit Effort to Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Most importantly, don’t limit your efforts to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Aside from the basics, such as fair pay, you might consider the following approaches to cultivating a more inclusive and equitable organizational culture.
Start an Employee Resource Group
Creating an Indigenous employee resource group can be a wonderful way to build community among employees and facilitate inclusion and belonging in the workplace. But don’t let it turn into a genealogy club. According to Clinton, Indigenous ERGs can unintentionally become venues where people try to prove ancestry to a tribe. This can be harmful for tribal citizens with established and legitimate ties to their communities or those with shared ancestral trauma from decades of federal policies such as Indian removal and Native American boarding schools. Establishing objectives for the ERG and creating an ERG charter can help you avoid this.
Mitigate Bias in the Workplace
Looking beyond the holiday also means taking measures to mitigate bias in your organization. One of the best ways to achieve this is by incorporating nondiscriminatory personality assessments in your talent acquisition and talent development strategies.
While many workplace assessments can discriminate (or be misused to conceal discrimination), well-validated and reliable personality assessments don’t produce any meaningful differences between demographic groups. What this means is that personality assessments can preserve diversity in applicant pools, making employment opportunities more equitable for historically excluded groups, including Indigenous people.
Our research shows that personality is a strong predictor of performance for nearly any type of role, in any industry, and at every job level. Using the right tools, hiring managers can identify the candidate who is best suited for the job, instead of selecting the one who is most similar to them—which is what often happens when interviews are the primary evaluation method in selection decisions. In this way, personality assessments can make it easier for Indigenous people and other members of marginalized groups to make it through the talent acquisition process and get the job offer.
Of course, diversity among employees matters little without a foundation of inclusion.5 Fostering an inclusive environment starts with hiring and promoting leaders who are capable of inclusive behavior—and personality can help with that too. Hogan’s data scientists have even identified competencies that can help you identify leadership candidates who will display sensitivity to the needs of others, relate to people whose perspectives differ from their own, treat others with respect and tolerance, discourage prejudice, and more.
As you can see, there’s much to do to prepare not only for Indigenous Peoples’ Day, but also for the other 364 days of the year—and personality assessment is just one small part of a comprehensive diversity, equity, and inclusion program. But we’re here to help you and your organization create an environment where everyone has a sense of belonging. Once you’ve wrapped up your programming this October, get in touch with us to get started.
- Associated Press. (1992, January 12). In Berkeley, Day for Columbus is Renamed. New York Times. https://www.nytimes.com/1992/01/12/us/in-berkeley-day-for-columbus-is-renamed.html
- Biden, J. (2021, October 8). A Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, 2021. The White House Briefing Room. https://www.whitehouse.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/10/08/a-proclamation-indigenous-peoples-day-2021/
- Torres, N. J. (2021, September 30). H.R. 5473 – Indigenous Peoples’ Day Act. 117th Congress of the United States. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/house-bill/5473/text?r=43
- Chiappetta, C. (2022, February 14). 3 Ways to Create Inclusive Holiday Policies. HR Certification Institute. https://www.hrci.org/community/blogs-and-announcements/hr-leads-business-blog/hr-leads-business/2022/02/14/3-ways-to-create-inclusive-holiday-policies
- Sherbin, L., & Rashid, R. (2017, February 1). Diversity Doesn’t Stick Without Inclusion. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2017/02/diversity-doesnt-stick-without-inclusion