The second Monday in the calendar month of October is traditionally the federal holiday of Columbus Day. This is the specific date it has been assigned to since the early 1970s. However, many localities are now focusing on celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day on this date instead. The fact that both holidays happen on the same date confuses many people as a controversy, but the truth is that both days are politically linked even though they celebrate different things.
What Is Columbus Day?Read More »
Spanish exploration and colonization of the Western Hemisphere resulted in many other European powers crossing the Atlantic in search of colonies, wealth, power, and trade. They brought with them not just colonists, but also plants, animals, and technology.
The celebration of Columbus Day as an official holiday can be traced back as far as 1892, although it was decades before it became an official federal holiday.
Falling Out of Favor
The celebration of Columbus Day has waned in recent decades in many locations. Historically, the accuracy of the claim that Columbus discovered the Americas is in serious doubt. Archaeologists have discovered sites known to be Viking ruins in Greenland. There is also evidence of their presence in Newfoundland centuries before Columbus sailed across the Atlantic.
Of course, indigenous populations commonly referred to as Native Americans were present in North America for centuries before even the Norse visited. Given the growing awareness of Christopher Columbus not being the first to visit the New World, objections to him having a holiday grew over time.
What Is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Columbus’ arrival in the Americas did accomplish one thing, and that was unspeakable suffering on the part of peoples indigenous to these continents. European exploration brought with it diseases that local populations had no immunity for, resulting in millions of deaths. More were simply killed by colonists, and some were enslaved.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day was started in the California city of Berkeley in 1992 for the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ arrival as an objection to Columbus Day. Those advocating for Indigenous Peoples’ Day often point to Columbus’ involvement in enslaving local populations among their arguments against the holiday.
Santa Cruz, also in California, adopted the holiday two years later. Starting in 2014, a national trend swept the United States of many municipalities deciding to avoid Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous People’s Day.
Even though Columbus Day remains a federal holiday in 2021, President Joe Biden became the first sitting American executive leader to officially endorse or recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in addition to Columbus Day. Thirteen different states representing more than a quarter of the Union have passed legislation officially withdrawing their support for Columbus Day. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is often used as an occasion to fundraise for tribes in need of resources and funds or as a chance to educate modern citizens about the plight of Native Americans who to this day face racism and poverty.
Advocates of Columbus Day say that it represents a celebration of a crucial moment in North American history and honors European roots and ancestry. Opponents of Columbus Day argue that it whitewashes the actions of the explorer against Native Americans and minimizes the brutality of European colonization.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an attempt to celebrate the cultures and traditions of those who were here first. It’s also a chance to support the descendants who survived, many of who are still facing expectations of assimilating into their national cultures.