Move Over, Columbus! It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The facts are simple. In October of 1492, the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus came to a land that was already occupied, and opened the Americas to European domination. With his arrival and the arrival of the European colonialists that soon followed him, thus began the genocide of millions of Native Americans. Nevertheless, for the past 500 plus years, America has celebrated the discovery of a land and culture that were flourishing well in advance of Columbus’ arrival.

But times are changing.

Today, a movement is on the rise to abolish the Columbus Day holiday altogether, and instead celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Instead of honoring Christopher Columbus, the Indigenous Peoples’ Day recognizes Native Americans, who were the first inhabitants of the land that later became the United States of America. Advocates for the switch to Indigenous Peoples Day argue that Columbus did not “discover” America in 1492 but instead began the colonization of it. For decades, Native American activists have advocated abolishing Columbus Day, which became a federal holiday in 1937.

The Indigenous People’s movement has gained momentum in many American cities, with Los Angeles in August becoming the biggest city to stop honoring the Italian explorer and instead recognize victims of colonialism. Austin followed suit last week, joining cities including San Francisco, Seattle and Denver, which had previously replaced the observation of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

Despite growing acceptance across the U.S., the gesture to recognize indigenous people rather than Christopher Columbus has prompted howls of outrage from some Italian Americans, who feel that eliminating their festival of ethnic pride is culturally insensitive, too. According to the Cliff Matias, cultural director of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council, “it’s not about taking anything away from Italian Americans. The conversation is Columbus. If they’re going to celebrate Columbus, we need to celebrate the fact that we survived Columbus.”

The Council is hosting a “Re-Thinking Columbus Day” event today in New York.

Demonstrators from the Native American Mexica Movement march to a statue of Christopher Columbus in Los Angeles in 2015, as part of a protest against Columbus Day.

Each year, more cities, states and universities opt to celebrate an alternative to Columbus Day: Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The history behind the movement began in late 1994 when the United Nations declared August 9 as International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples. Berkeley, California was the first city in the U.S. to replace Columbus Day itself. The city’s decision was influenced by the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in 1990, which spurred another Northern California conference that discussed similar issues and brought them to the Berkeley City Council.

Today, the following cities and states celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

States:

Cities:

Universities:

*Celebrates Native American Day. **Celebrates both Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day

Several other cities are considering an alternative to Columbus Day, replacing celebrations of Columbus with that of indigenous people. A member of Washington, D.C.’s city council proposed a bill to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, and New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio created a commission to assess the value of monuments of historical figures in public spaces in the city. That includes the monument honoring the Italian explorer in Columbus Circle near Central Park. Just days before the 2017 holiday, the city council in Austin, Texas, voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The town of Newcastle, Maine, is considering a change to follow the lead of a number of other cities in the state, though members of the town’s Board of Selectmen’s won’t vote on the matter until the 2017 holiday has passed. Advocates for the switch have also voiced the desire for the change in Santa Barbara, Calif., Silver City, N.M. and Miami County, Kansas, among other cities.

With similar controversy flaring over NFL Players taking a knee and the removal of Confederate statues in the South adding fuel to an ethnically charged America, the debate over Columbus Day may be another wake up call for America to finally address its racial pain body.

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