The Columbus Day Debate

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Columbus Day celebrates Christopher Columbus's arrival to the Americas (Credit: Uk.USembassy.gov)

The second Monday in October has traditionally been known as Columbus Day in honor of the Italian explorer's "discovery" of the Americas on October 12, 1492. However, the US federal holiday, which will be celebrated on October 11 this year, has always been controversial due to the European settlers' cruel treatment of the Native American people.

Historians also argue that Christopher Columbus was not the first to find the continent. The indigenous people had been living in the Americas long before his arrival. He was also not the first European to set foot in North America. That honor belongs to a group of Vikings, led by Leif Eriksson, who established a settlement in Greenland in AD 980.

Some US states, including Oregon, Iowa, and Nebraska, have never recognized Columbus Day. Hawaii renamed it "Discoverers' Day" — in honor of the state's Polynesian founders — in 1971, while South Dakota changed it to "Native American Day" in 1990. As public awareness of the controversy increased, many US schools and universities also stopped observing the holiday.

The US states (in green ) that celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day. or Native American Day ,as of 2020 (Credit: Kaldari/CC0/ Wikimedia Commons)

The shift in sentiment was encouraging, but many people were still unhappy about Columbus Day being a federal holiday. In 1977, a delegation of Native nations — attending the International NGO Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas — proposed renaming Columbus Day to "Indigenous Peoples' Day." They believed the change would help honor the victims of American colonization. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority.

Berkeley, CA, was the first US city to make the change in 1992, and Santa Cruz, CA, followed shortly after in 1994. But the idea really began to gain momentum after 2014. That year, Minneapolis, MN, Grand Rapids, MN, and Seattle, WA, renamed the holiday. Since then, over 100 cities and entire states, including Alaska and Oregon, have adopted Indigenous Peoples' Day.

In 2020, Colorado replaced Columbus Day with Cabrini Day, in honor of Frances Xavier Cabrini. The Italian-American Roman Catholic nun helped establish over 67 schools, hospitals, and orphanages in the United States and South and Central America. The same year, Arizona decided to recognize both Indigenous Peoples' Day and Columbus Day on the second Monday in October.

An Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration in Berkeley, CA (Credit: Quinn Dombrowskii/CC BY-SA 2.0 /Wikimedia Commons)

The movement to alter the name has also gained ground in Latin America. Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Uruguay have all renamed Columbus Day to "Día de la Raza," or "Day of the Race." The holiday celebrates Latin America's mixed indigenous and European heritage and culture. Venezuela and Nicaragua's "Día de la Resistencia Indígena," or "Day of the Indigenous Resistance," honors the indigenous population's past and ongoing struggles.

But not everyone thinks a name change is necessary. For Italian Americans, Columbus Day is the centerpiece of the Italian Heritage Month, celebrated every October. They argue the holiday honors the history of immigration, not the explorer. Therefore, they believe the name should be retained or changed to something more appropriate, like Italian Heritage Day. What do you think? Be sure to let us know by adding your comments below.

Resources: Wikipedia.org, CNN.com, History.com, PBS.org

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124 Comments
  • girllly12
    girllly12about 2 months
    I think Columbus day should NOT be celebrated.
  • cherrypotato1
    indigenous peoples day would make sense but I've been used to Columbus day my whole life I do like how I can get out of school but also after reading this article I've now realized what columbus day is and what it means to people.
    • snowflake2001
      snowflake200110 months
      I am in the green. I don't celebrate this holiday . But at least I have school off 😁
      • techfashion0315
        I lean toward Indigenous People's Day, personally.
        • maxverstappen33
          I think Columbus Day should be celebrated instead of Indigenous Peoples day. think that because Columbus discovered America and I don't want to erase history
          • susboyanimekid
            He literally didn't and their is evidence but go off I guess🙄😑
            • girllly12
              girllly12about 2 months
              It's not erasing history It's just that he wasn't the first to find America and he treated the indigenous population really cruelly.
            • metallica1991
              Columbus didn't discover america people were already living there before he came.
              • chihiroxhaku30
                He wasn't the first person here though. He was the first white person, but not the first person.
            • mamoudubah
              mamoudubah12 months
              i will pick indigenous cause the native americans were the first people to have feet on this land until colombus came he ruin it
              • kammeo
                kammeo12 months
                I don't celebrate this
                • nauen
                  nauenabout 1 year
                  awesome!
                  • jahjah404
                    jahjah404about 1 year
                    cool
                    • minecrafter68
                      minecrafter68about 1 year
                      i dont really mess with this stuff BUT! i do think it should be indigenous not colombus l