Gabrielle Colfax

Gabrielle Colfax burns sage during a prayer walk dedicated to missing and murdered Indigenous people Wednesday, July 14, 2021, on South Camas Avenue in Wapato, Wash.

Martin Luther King Jr.’s often-quoted phrase about the arc of the universe bending toward justice is a comforting mantra in times like these. But in the end, it isn’t the universe that accomplishes social change — it’s us.

After Monday’s commemorations of Indigenous Peoples Day, we see new reason for hope.

More than 500 years after Christopher Columbus pulled ashore, towns from Ypsilanti to Yakima have shifted the focus of the day. Instead of celebrating a guy who sailed across the Atlantic from Europe on what was essentially a business trip, perhaps we’re finally starting to consider the people whose worlds his arrival helped shatter.

The shift began in the late 1970s and has continued right up to Friday, when President Joe Biden proclaimed Indigenous Peoples Day a national holiday for the first time. The city of Yakima recognized the day back in 2016.

Monday, numerous gatherings — including some here in the Valley — marked the occasion.

This is where we could sagely observe that we’ve all come a long way in understanding one another and that generally speaking, wrongs eventually get righted.

The harsh truth, though, is that they don’t right themselves. This small step toward acknowledging the people who’ve called this land home for thousands of years has taken decades and faced constant resistance and ridicule.

It shouldn’t have.

As our project, “The Vanished,” documents, Native American crime victims rarely generate much public attention. Abhorrent as the recent death of Florida’s Gabby Petito is, stories of missing or murdered women of color never seem to draw the kind of national media attention that her case did.

Then again, we live in an era when many people pick and choose their truths. Facts that don’t fit our political beliefs are summarily rejected and opposing views aren’t just ignored, they’re viciously attacked. Provably true information is meaningless if it didn’t come from a source we agree with. Even science is fair game.

We all see it. We’ve all felt it. Many of us have lost friends and family ties over it.

Yet there it was Monday. A chance to think differently. A hard-won victory for truth.

It seems like a discernible and hopeful step forward, thanks to those who weren’t willing to wait for the universe to bend toward justice.