LINCOLN, Neb. (KMTV) — This year, for the first time, Nebraska celebrated Indigenous Peoples' Day as a state holiday. To celebrate, tribal leaders gathered at the State Capitol for a day of drumming, dancing and a sculpture exhibition.
"It's important that we recognize that this country and this state were founded on the takings of Indian lands," Victoria Kitcheyan, the Tribal Chairwoman of the Winnebago Tribe of Nebraska said.
The flags of four federally recognized Nebraska tribes were placed in the capitol's chamber for permanent display. Omaha Tribal Chairman Everett Baxter Jr. hopes the holiday sheds more light on his tribe's connections and contributions to society.
"Our roots in the land, our people have been here for centuries, not just in this area but all along the Missouri River and all the way up to Blood Run area in Sioux Falls where we call home. Up to the present day, where we are now, an area we called home for a couple centuries to a few centuries," Baxter said.
Baxter says it's difficult to measure the resilience and change Native Americans have endured since the United States became an official country.
"Our people had to endure so many hardships along the way, but we overcame it. Like it was stated earlier, this pandemic we are going through is not the first one we've seen," Baxter Jr. said. "We've survived smallpox, we've survived genocide. That's something that is still very important, that we are survivors."
Ultimately, tribal leaders say this day marks a step towards reconciliation.
"Today we need to work towards educating our schools, our leadership, so that they can be spokespeople and citizens of this state that know the truth and can honor and uphold the teachings and traditions of the Native people," Kitcheyan said.
In doing so, they say it's creating the space for reflection and hopes for widespread recognition.
There was also an unveiling of a sculpture honoring Native American physician Susan La Flesche Picotte.