Washington DC along with several other cities and states across the nation recognized Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. This holiday has been celebrated for over 30 years, South Dakota was the first state to do so in 1987.
But why not Columbus Day?
For centuries, Christopher Columbus has been celebrated in the United States as the person who discovered the New World in 1492. However, this is both wrong and erases the dark history that still impacts the Indigenous community today. The truth is that Columbus was not the first European explorer to discover the Americas. Additionally, he was responsible for the brutal treatment and slaughtering of countless native people, including children. 400 years later, in 1892, Columbus Day was first recognized in school systems across the nation, despite the fact that Columbus never set foot on U.S. soil in his four voyages to the New World.
So, how did Columbus become an American Icon?
During the war of Independence, American revolutionaries looked for a figure to symbolize the rebellious nature of the war, ignoring the brutality against Indigenous people. Italian immigrants in the coming decades would further celebrate him as a hero who shared both their Italian and Catholic identities in a time where these identities were being marginalized. Since then, much of Indigenous history has been omitted from history books.
Why does it matter?
Indigenous People have continued to be erased from American history, and are continually ripped away from their lands and their families for the benefit of colonization and westward expansion. They have been used as mascots for Major League Sport teams, carelessly reduced to caricatures of their culture.
“So if Columbus was a bad person, how can Italians celebrate their heritage?”
There is nothing inherently bad about celebrating any culture. However, we should all reflect on and reevaluate who we cherish as our idols. Christopher Columbus is only one part of the vibrant contributions of Italian Americans. There are many other ways to celebrate heritage while being thoughtful about the impact on other communities.
What should I do as a non-Native person?
Although we should not speak for Native people and their experiences, we should be aware of ways we can help elevate their voices and include them in our conversations. Do we include them in discussions for people of color, or do we default to the other large panethnic groups (i.e. Black/Africana, Latinx/a/o, Asian and Pacific Islanders)? Are we considering inclusive procedures to respect their spiritual and cultural practices, such as smudging? These are just a few examples on how we can move the needle to a more inclusive society.
Upcoming Indigenous Centered Events
November 5th - Mundo Lingo: More Than A Word Film Screening
December 5th - How to Be A Better Ally?: Local Indigenous Communities
For more information on Indigenous centered events, please email Carlos Turcios and Erin Waddles Coordinators for Student Diversity and Inclusion at email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org, or email@example.com.