Monday marks Columbus Day, commemorating the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. Officially a federal holiday since 1937, Columbus Day affords families across the country the opportunity to enjoy the fall foliage with a three-day weekend filled with parades, barbeques, and outdoor events.
But not everyone is celebrating. The holiday has long caused anger amongst minority groups, especially native Americans, who object to honoring a man who, they argue, opened the door to European colonization, exploitation of native peoples, and the slave trade.
In a Democracy Now! interview from 2011, President of the United Confederation of Taino People Robert Mucaro Borrero outlines the case against the holiday, stating that commemorating Columbus is a “blatant example of the continuation of the campaign of genocide” and represents a “propping up of racist propaganda” against indigenous peoples. Similarly, in that same interview, Chief of the Louisiana-based United Houma Nation Brenda Dardar-Robichaux argues that “Columbus doesn’t deserve parades and holidays; this should be a national day of mourning.”
Borrero and Dardar-Robichaux make a powerful case against the holiday, one that we should consider seriously. Our public schools rarely teach students the full history of the exploration of America. We tend to emphasize the glorified story of exploration, gold, and discovery, but we ignore the darker side of what has happened to Native Americans since European exploration.
If we are going to continue to celebrate Columbus Day as a national holiday, it’s time we also start commemorating Native Americans by recognizing their contributions to the fabric of America and reflecting on their plight with a separate federal holiday.
Moreover, United Native America, an advocacy organization “standing up for America and the American Indian community,” is currently circulating a petition calling for Congress to enact a federal holiday on October 10th to “pay tribute to those that endured the world’s longest holocaust and most costly in human lives.” Under that plan, Colubmus Day would be moved back to the second Wednesday of October. According to the petition, “It is inappropriate for Indian children and children of America to celebrate Columbus discovering a nation of people and not having a holiday paying tribute to the people of those nations.”
This movement may seem unimportant, but the indigenous advocacy groups have made major gains across the country. In 2007, Dane County Wisconsin Supervisor Ashok Kumar replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day. Similarly, the city of Berkeley, California has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People's Day since 1992, and South Dakota renamed the holiday "Native American Day."
Making Indigenous People’s Day a national holiday would be a significant step to redress America’s long history of neglect and disregard for indigenous rights.
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