All across the country various states and cities are hosting virtual or outdoor events this Monday October 12th to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day, a holiday meant to celebrate and honor Native American traditions and culture.
Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Wisconsin, the District of Columbia and more than 130 cities officially observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. The initial notion of this day taking over Columbus Day first emerged at an international conference on discrimination sponsored by the United Nations in 1977. In 1989 South Dakota became the first state to recognize the day as a national holiday; the cities of Berkeley and Santa Cruz in California followed shortly thereafter. California and Tennessee also celebrate Native American Day in September every year, which is celebrated the same way.
While there are some groups across the country that argue Columbus Day celebrates Italian-American heritage, many others think that by naming a holiday after Columbus, we are further glorifying colonization and the exploration of America that led to one of the biggest genocides in human history of native peoples; which also paved the way for slavery.
Columbus may be credited as the person who first “discovered” the New World but the reality is millions of people had already been inhabiting the Americas for centuries prior. Columbus made four major expeditions to the Caribbean and South America over the course of twenty years. During these two decades he enslaved and decimated complete communities of Native Americans, which ended up starting a massive trend of westernization and European colonization across the world.
There have been multiple incidences across the nation of groups calling for the removal of Columbus monuments, as well as any confederate generals, as a means of respecting the cultures that these leaders completely destroyed through colonization. Several Columbus statues throughout America were taken down this summer amid the protests for George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis Police.
Columbus, Ohio, a city literally named for the explorer, also removed their Columbus statue outside of its city hall. President Trump, however, has campaigned to protect monuments and end programs that want to teach America’s youth about the reality of Christopher Columbus and what his “discovery” actually entailed for the millions of Native people whose homes he invaded and destroyed.
However, more and more cities, states, and school boards, have opted to observe Indigenous Peoples Day every year instead. For example, in February the Chicago Board of Education voted to officially change the name of the holiday as well as the governor of Arizona. Rockville, Maryland, Salem, Massachusetts, and Montgomery, Alabama, plan to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day as an official holiday for the first time this year. Montgomery Mayor Steven Reed thinks the move to change the name is a truer representation of the city’s history.
“We are not rewriting history. In fact, we are allowing for a more accurate accounting of history by acknowledging the people who are native to this land. We must be honest about the past in order to heal, reconcile and become an even stronger community.”
The Alabama Indigenous Coalition also plans to host a gathering in downtown Montgomery that will march to the Capitol to honor the Native Americans who died along the Trail of Tears; the 5,000-mile trek millions of natives were forced to endure moved natives across 9 states, yet it’s rarely discussed in terms of history.
This year indigenous individuals have never needed to be recognized more, as Native American, Black, and Latino households are the ones being most severely impacted by the Covid-19 pandemic. In fact, 55% of Native American households have reported serious financial problems. Half of the Native American households either have poor internet connection or no internet at all.
This year for Indigenous Peoples Day, get educated on the many systemic issues that impact people of color, and Native Americans especially, to this day. Recognizing the holiday as a celebration of Native American culture is a step in the right direction, but we must also acknowledge the violent and racist history that Indigenous individuals have had to endure for centuries.
Eric Mastrota is a Contributing Editor at The National Digest based in New York. A graduate of SUNY New Paltz, he reports on world news, culture, and lifestyle. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.