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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93 Comments
  • mrparrish
    mrparrish2 days
    They need to change it.
    • mrparrish
      mrparrish2 days
      It does need to be changed.
      • ns174641
        ns1746417 days
        I think the should keep it the same because its rewriting history #KeepTheName
        • futuresolutions
          I don't see the bother of making it such a big deal. People have the choice of celebrating it or not, it's not like anyone is forcing anyone to celebrate it. I think we should all just stop arguing and go our separate ways. Just leave it as "Columbus Day" and you can choose weather or not to celebrate it. It is really not that big of a deal. I hope you realize that this all took place a long time ago, and it cannot be changed, even if it was a terrible thing to do to the Native Americans. Some of the Native Americans (Not all) were cannibals, by the way. I may sound very one sided, here (sorry bout that, I don't know how to get my point across any other way), but just leave "Columbus Day" as it is, and do what you want with it, we don't have to eliminate it completely. Please don't get mad about my opinion, I just see it ridiculous to argue about something that has stayed the same for a long time, and not only that, but it is one day. One day out of the 365 (Unless it's a leap year).
          • teacherapple
            This is a great article! In my opinion, Columbus Day is inappropriate with the information we know. You cannot discover a place where people have been living for centuries just because it's the first time you, or your friends, knew about it. By this logic, I could discover and take a watch from someone's wrist just because it's the first time I've seen it. Of course, we wouldn't do this because it's stealing, that's exactly what happened to the indigenous people of America.
            • mrparrish
              mrparrish2 days
              I think we should change it.
              • ns174641
                ns1746417 days
                Yea but changing it would be like rewriting history
                • kittywwii
                  kittywwii9 days
                  That's true but this was something that the entire world was donig, though you have a good point, but, in their eyes this "New Land" was up for grabs, I know it seems like I'm defending the Europeans and everyone else but I don't think what they did was either, when we won over the Native Americans we should have given them more land, they were there's first and are Amercans, they should have the same opportunities we have.
                • catwwii
                  catwwii10 days
                  They should leave it Columbus day, he discovered two contents and nobody put two and two together until after he died, Columbus was still the first european to set foot in America, and of course he sent a note to the queen about slaves, at the time that's just what was normal then, and yes they shouldn't have treated the Native Americans like that but they weren't all mean to them, they can make an Indegenous People day any other day, Christopher Columbus deserves a "holiday"
                  • saphege_ems
                    i think the name's fine (i dont rly care about the day personally) but i will that while columbus LANDED near america in the west indies, he didn't even know it was new. he thought he was in the Indies near Asia (explaining why we call native americans indians) but he in san salvador in the west indies. Amerigo Vespucci found that columbus landed at a new continent and that's why we call the New World North America and South America. #AmerigoDay
                    • zotijufi-163388923906
                      columbus killed the native americas because he asked for the gold and they had none and he sent a note to the queen and it said they were nice people and I can get you as many slaves as you want
                    • scissccisd
                      scissccisd13 days
                      The Vikings didn't even really discover America. All they did was discover a small place called Newfoundland in Canada. The Vikings left a couple years later but they did not find anything of importance, people forgot about the story for years. Christopher Columbus' discovery was revolutionary and shaped the modern world forever. #Keep the Name
                      • kiearrag10484
                        hi i love the article