Should Columbus Day Be Replaced With Indigenous People’s Day?

by Jenna Colon


Many cities are adopting the celebration of Indigenous People’s Day in lieu
of Columbus Day. (Photo: Marcus Johnson)

Columbus Day and the man who inspired it has been controversial topic in the recent years. Because of that reason there is a debated subject of turning Columbus day into Indigenous People’s Day.

Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus in the New World in 1492. According to The New York Times, This holiday was first recognized in 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt made it a federal holiday. Many Italian-American community groups convinced Roosevelt to make it a federal holiday starting in the early 1900s.

For many, the holiday is a way of both honoring Columbus’s achievements and celebrating Italian-American heritage. But for others, it’s celebrating a man who did not discover America first and was responsible for the rape and murder of a large number of residing indigenous people.

There have been claims that the first people to actually “discover” the Americas were actually vikings. According to the History Channel, viking Leif Eriksson may have been the first actually to stumble upon the Americas. There is evidence of settlements in Newfoundland, but not much is still known about what happened to them. Columbus wasn’t even in North America, when he landed he was actually in the the Bahamas.

Indigenous People’s Day celebrates Native Americans and challenges the idea of Columbus discovering America. Berkeley, California, South Dakota, and a number of cities and states have adopted Indigenous Peoples Day, including Denver, Phoenix, Portland, Alaska, and Vermont.

According to The New York Times, in Berkeley, California, Indigenous People’s Day is celebrated with Indian markets and pow-wows ( a cultural event, where Natives dance, sing and preserve their culture). This year on Randall’s Island NYC, Indigenous People’s Day can be celebrated Oct. 8 through 9.  It is free to the public. There will be Native American artists, musicians, poets, activists, cultural groups, and more.

Berkeley Loni Hancock, who was the Mayor of Berkeley in 1992, told TIME Magazine in 2014 that they opted for the alternative to Columbus Day because the existing celebrations were “Eurocentric and [have] ignored the brutal realities of the colonization of indigenous peoples.”

People chose to celebrate Indigenous People’s day to both reveal historical truths about the genocide and oppression of indigenous peoples in the Americas, and celebrate those same cultures.

Mentioned by The Unitarian Universalist Association, the idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day originated in 1977, at a U.N.-sponsored conference in Geneva, Switzerland. The meeting talked about the discrimination against indigenous populations in the Americas. Fourteen years later, activists in Berkeley, CA, convinced the Berkeley to declare October 12 a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People.” Henceforth, there has been a growing movement to appropriate “Columbus Day” as “Indigenous People’s Day.”

“That the initiative to turn Columbus Day into indigenous people’s day is wonderful, but I don’t think we should Institute that change until it’s implemented Nationwide so as to be consistent with the rest of America,” said WCC student Ahmed Abdullah.

Some people will choose to celebrate Columbus day because it celebrates the pride in Columbus’ birthplace and faith, Italian and Catholic communities in various parts of the country hold annual religious ceremonies and parades in his honor.

Others have never heard of Indigenous People’s Day, according to WCC student Stephen Parker

“I’ve only heard of Columbus day so I’m biased and would pick that, but since it’s a diverse campus, Indigenous People’s Day sounds pretty cool, too,” Parker said.

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