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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81 Comments
  • lobster_of_joy
    make it indigenous people day!
    • eddsworld_4life
      I think we should change the name to "Indigenous Peoples Day" because Columbus was a bad person that stole someone else's land and home. Plus he wasn't even the first one there it was the Native Americans that were there first. #ChangeTheName!
      • lox
        lox7 days
        I believe we should make it Indigenous People Day
        • gwen1s2345789
          Keep the name!
          • nick05
            nick056 days
            Keeping Columbus Day makes Indigenous People undiscovered.
            • ilovemymommy
              Why? clombus did nothing good.
            • mistye
              Misty E8 days
              Columbus wasn't the first to find America and Columbus and the other European settlers were cruel to the Native American's it was not fair for the Native American's and when the European settlers came the Native American's must've gotten diseases. In my opinion I think Columbus is bad.
            • tifajipi-159786085851
              This is a good idea, and they are right, Christopher Columbus did not find America. I know this did not make sense.
              • roxanneroxyfoxy
                Wow, I liked this
                • shocksling
                  shocksling10 days
                  If Christopher Columbus didn't arrive on October 12, 1492, all of history would be different. Who knows if the Natives would have killed him? ( considering that their weaponry was being upgraded) many of us in the comments section is currently in the United States (obviously). Sure, Columbus made mistakes, but that doesn't mean we can't give him credit for all the colonizing that happened back then. #Keep the Name
                • bond2367
                  bond236711 days
                  I believe they should not change the name because the Indigenous Men and Women think everything needs to be changed because it's "Too offensive". But, Yes I believe what Chris did was very wrong but they have kept this a national holiday for 84 years and I will like to keep it for another 84 years. #keepthename
                • saterobevubo
                  I LOVED THIS