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Columbus Day, which honors the Italian explorer's October 12, 1492, arrival to the Americas, has been a US federal holiday since 1971. However, the holiday, marked annually on the second Monday of October (October 10th this year), has always been controversial. Many believe that the European settlers' mistreatment of the Native American people is not a cause for celebration.
Historians also argue that Christopher Columbus did not "discover" 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. A Norse explorer by the name of Leif Erikson set up the first European settlement in Greenland in AD 980 — nearly 500 years before Columbus's arrival.
Some US states, like 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 stopped observing the holiday.
In 1977, a delegation of Native nations — at the International NGO Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas — proposed renaming the holiday 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 city to make the change in 1992. Santa Cruz, CA, followed shortly after in 1994. The idea really began to gain momentum after 2014. That year, Minneapolis, MN, Grand Rapids, MN, and Seattle, WA, renamed Columbus Day "Indigenous Peoples' Day." 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. In 2021, President Joe Biden became the first sitting US president to issue a presidential proclamation marking Indigenous Peoples' Day. It encouraged Americans to celebrate the holiday on the second Monday in October, along with Columbus Day.
But not everyone thinks a name change is necessary. For Italian Americans, Columbus Day is the centerpiece of Italian Heritage Month, celebrated every October. They argue that 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.
Resources: History.com, Wikipedia.org, CNN.com, Interchange.com