Indigenous People’s Day: Why many Americans celebrate it instead of Columbus Day

The holiday was created in reaction to the atrocities carried out by Columbus and European settlers against Native American people in the Americas

Clark Mindock
New York
Monday 11 October 2021 14:33
Los Angeles city council vote to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day
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Indigenous Peoples' Day is an increasingly popular holiday in the United States that was created in reaction to Columbus Day, a national holiday dedicated to celebrating the explorer who led an expeditions to the Americas starting in 1492.

Columbus has become a controversial figure, and, as a result, many states and cities have decided to rename the holiday dedicated to him for the people who already lived in the Americas when Columbus and his crews arrived on shore — a population that was enslaved and ultimately killed off en masse.

Here’s what you need to know about the renamed national holiday.

How long has Columbus Day been around?

Columbus Day became a US federal holiday in 1937 after an effort by Roman Catholic Italian Americans, who were at the time members of a particularly stigmatised ethnic and religious group.

Members of that group campaigned to establish Columbus Day as a holiday in order to establish Christopher Columbus — a Catholic Italian — as an important and central figure in American history.

Along the way, their efforts wound up cultivating the false impression among many Americans that Columbus literally discovered the Americas, even though explorers had set foot in the region and established settlements at least 500 years prior to Columbus’ arrival.

Why are people renaming Columbus Day?

While much of American history has been written around the conquests and successes of European descendants, there has been increasing recognition that the American narrative has served to marginalise Native American people whose ancestors’ blood was spilled in those endeavours.

“Columbus Day is not just a holiday, it represents the violent history of colonization in the Western hemisphere,” Leo Killsback, a professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University, told the History Channel.

Many American public schools do not teach students in-depth about the 10 million or so people who lived in the Americas before Europeans arrived, and what has happened to that population through the years.

Which brings us to Columbus himself: Indigenous People’s Day highlights the brutal history of the man, and his treatment of indigenous people he found already living in the Americas when he arrived.

Historians have found evidence that Columbus and his teams enslaved native inhabitants of the West Indies, and subjected them to extreme violence. That treatment started on the first day he arrived, according to his journal, which says that he immediately ordered the seizure of six native people to be used as servants.

Some claims state Columbus oversaw the slaughter of indigenous people, and even ordered people’s hands be cut off for failing to perform tasks for his teams.

Where do people celebrate Indigenous People’s Day?

Indigenous People’s day is celebrated all over the country, while one of the earliest adopters of the holiday was Berkeley, California, in 1992.

Since then, the movement has grown — and includes cities in states across the US from New York to Oklahoma and Washington State.

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