Austin And Los Angeles Join The Growing Trend To Replace Columbus Day With Indigenous People's Day

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First Landing of Christopher Columbus in America (Photo Credit: Dióscoro Puebla [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons)

Columbus Day has been a fixture on American calendars since 1937, when President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared October 12 a federal holiday to honor the Italian explorer who “discovered” the Americas in 1492. However, the holiday, whose date has since been changed to the second Monday of October, has always been somewhat controversial. Many people believe that Christopher Columbus should not be given credit for “discovering” the continent, since Native Americans had already been residing there for generations.

However, the more significant issue stems from the fact that the explorer’s mission was not a scientific “voyage of discovery,” but one geared to conquer and colonize the new land. Critics maintain that the Spanish army Columbus brought on his second voyage, caused the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous people. Those that survived the massacre were enslaved and put to work in mines and plantations. Many, therefore, believe that the explorer’s arrival should not be celebrated.

South Dakota has always dubbed the holiday “Native American Day,” while Hawaii has celebrated it as Discoverers' Day” in honor of the state’s Polynesian founders. Over the years, the popularity of Columbus Day has tapered off in other states as well, with only 23 listing it as an approved holiday. Numerous schools and universities have also stopped commemorating the event. In 2015, the Pew Research Center reported that Columbus Day was one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays.

Photo Credit: critfc.org

Regardless of whether it was observed, the day still paid homage to the Spanish explorer. To change that, in 1977, a delegation of Native nations at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, proposed renaming the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day.” The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority.

However, convincing the rest of the country to do the same was not that easy. It took 15 years before the city of Berkeley in California adopted the name in 1992 and began celebrating the day with a Native American festival, and then 22 more years before Minneapolis, MN and Seattle, WA did the same in 2014. The following year, eight more cities including Albuquerque, NM and Portland, OR, began celebrating the second Monday of October as “Indigenous Peoples Day.” The movement really started to gain momentum in 2016 when 19 cities, including Boulder, CO and Phoenix, AZ, three universities, as well as the states of Minnesota and Vermont, all decided to rename the day to honor Native Americans. In 2017, 21 more cities, including Austin, TX and Los Angeles, CA have made the shift.

Larger number of cities move to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day (photo Credit: DYLAN PETROHILOS/Think Progresss.org)

Many Latin American countries are also moving away from the name “Dia de la Raza,” or “Day of the Race.” The holiday, which commemorated the anniversary of the Italian explorer’s arrival in the New World, was never meant to honor Columbus, but rather the people and the cultural influences he brought. However, to many, it serves as a reminder of not just the past, but also the current struggles of the indigenous population who continue to suffer racial discrimination. To recognize their plight, Venezuela changed its holiday to “Day of the Indigenous Resistance” in 2002. Nicaragua adopted the same name soon after. Argentina has renamed the holiday, “Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity,” while Chile changed it to “Día del Descubrimiento de Dos Mundos,” or “Day of the Encounter Between the Two Worlds.”

However, not everyone is happy at this turn of events. For many Italian-Americans, Columbus Day is the focal point of Italian Heritage Month celebrated throughout October. But Native American photojournalist Cliff Matias who has been leading the charge to make the change, argues that it is not so much an "Anti-Columbus Day but a celebration of indigenous peoples’ culture.”

With the increasingly larger number of cities moving away from Columbus Day each year, it will be interesting to see if “Indigenous People's Day” gets federal recognition. Meanwhile, it will continue to be the focal point of debates throughout the Americas.

Resources: cnn.com, rt.com,npr.com

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colonizecommemoratingcontroversialconvincingcriticsdelegationdiscriminationdubbedenslavedfocalgenerationshomageinconsistentlyindigenousmassacremomentumoverwhelmingplightproposedrecognitionresolutionsignificanttapered
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Reading Comprehension (14 questions)

  1. When was Columbus Day first celebrated?
  2. Who declared it a federal holiday?

Critical Thinking Challenge

Make an argument for or against renaming Columbus Day to...

Vocabulary in Context

“Over the years, the popularity of Columbus Day has tapered off in other states as well, with only 23 listing it as an approved holiday.”

In the above sentence, the word...

155 Comments
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  • SnowFriday, October 20, 2017 at 6:09 pm
    They could make Indigenous People's Day on the Friday BEFORE Columbus Day since the Native Americans were here BEFORE Columbus. Not only does this allow for both holidays to be celebrated, but it also would give us an extra day off and give us a longer weekend.
    • Sam PetersonFriday, October 20, 2017 at 1:55 pm
      I totally agree that Christopher Columbus day should be renamed. Why should we celebrate a man getting lost on his way to Asia and accidentally finding a land that was already inhabited for generations? Plus, he decided to kill or enslave all the natives so he could claim the land.
      • SnowFriday, October 20, 2017 at 5:40 am
        People need to see both sides of the story here. It wasn't actually Columbus who was responsible for the deaths of all these people, but the explorers and Spanish armies that came after him. For example: Spanish conquistador Francisco Pizarro conquered the Inca Indians and forced them to work in mines, as well as Hernando Cortes who conquered the Aztec Indians of Mexico. Besides, how many cannibalistic and hostile Indian tribes killed innocent Americans? We can't blame Columbus for all the damage caused by the people who followed him. Oh also, (just for a tid-bit of trivia knowledge) Columbus was originally Italian, but he sailed for Spain because they funded his voyage.
        • mikeyThursday, October 19, 2017 at 12:17 pm
          well i know that the gut killed someone beuase of this!!!
          • SnowThursday, October 19, 2017 at 11:19 am
            If Indigenous Peoples' Day is just a day celebrating native American culture, then why not make it on a different day? Sure Columbus may not have been the greatest person, but he was the one who discovered this New World. If Columbus never discovered the New World, we might not have become the thriving Americas we know this land to be today- and we especially wouldn't be celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day! We've got to give Columbus some credit!
            • lisa ault Wednesday, October 18, 2017 at 10:34 am
              i love the columbusday video love lisa
              • mlamb31
                mlamb31Thursday, October 19, 2017 at 4:39 pm
                same :)))
              • jamarWednesday, October 18, 2017 at 10:33 am
                he make the peple sick
                • jamesWednesday, October 18, 2017 at 10:31 am
                  columbus day
                  • My ClassWednesday, October 18, 2017 at 10:30 am
                    My class took a vote on the two days and they to keep 14 to 2 to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day.
                    • nathanWednesday, October 18, 2017 at 10:29 am
                      good

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