In 1989, Governor George Mickelson encouraged the South Dakota Legislature to change Columbus Day in South Dakota to Native Americans' Day. The legislature took the governor's suggestion to heart, and South Dakota became the first state in the nation to celebrate indigenous peoples instead of Christopher Columbus. "I can't help what happened in 1868 and 1890," Governor Mickelson told the Chicago Tribune in 1990. "I'm just a contemporary leader sitting here trying to deal with a set of facts and trying to leave things better than I found them."
The establishment of Native Americans' Day was only part of Governor Mickelson's effort to advance race relations in the state of South Dakota. Governor Mickelson also declared 1990 as a "Year of Reconciliation" between American Indian and white South Dakotans.
Today, South Dakota is not the only state that celebrates Native Americans' Day. Just this year, Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin declared the second Monday in October as Indigenous People's Day. Additionally, Alaska and Hawaii celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day and Discoverers' Day respectively. However, neither Alaska nor Hawaii originally recognized Columbus Day.