Over the past several years, there have been many movements to replace the observation of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in light of the acts of terrorism committed by Columbus on indigenous communities during the Age of Exploration. The origins of Columbus Day prove much more complex than many know.
“Columbus day actually emerged as part of a movement of Italian Americans who wanted to have their own heritage recognized. They advocated for celebrating Columbus as the origin of American stories and American heritage as a way to counter, at the time, some pretty strong anti-Italian sentiment.” said professor of english Laura von Wallmenich, professor of English and Native American Literature.
In spite of the complex roots of Columbus Day, many feel that the observation of Columbus Day is harmful to Native Americans.
“By making that a holiday that we celebrate and suggesting that Columbus is an origin for American identity is at the very least insulting to indigenous peoples.” said von Wallmenich.
In addition, many feel that the portrayal of Columbus as a heroic historical figure neglects to address the suffering many indigenous communities experienced at the hands of Columbus during colonization.
“To celebrate Columbus Day, and to celebrate Columbus as a kind of founder figure is historically not entirely accurate. It’s also to celebrate and elevate as an individual hero something that was actually a complex colonizing force that displaced indigenous people.” said von Wallmenich.
Some argue that the heroic representation of Columbus stems from a lack of education on the suffering of Native Americans during colonization.
“My school didn’t teach me a lot about what Columbus did to indigenous communities. Admittedly, part of what history is involves how it’s remembered. Unfortunately, history is often rewritten to not show some of the bad parts” said Jared Wilson, (‘20).
The movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day began with grassroots movements by Native Americans, and has made tremendous progress in a short period of time.
“The organized movement to protest and resist Columbus Day has really been a fairly recent movement, in the last few decades, but the roots of that go all the way back to the 1970’s during the American Indian Movements where there began to be politically organized indigenous communities from across the United States protesting U.S. policies.” said von Wallmenich.
Part of the success of these movements for Indigenous Peoples’ Day can be attributed to the passion and devotion of Native Americans for their history to be accurately addressed.
“I think Indigenous People’s Day is fueled by a desire to acknowledge that indigenous communities are still here, they still grapple with the legacies of colonization, and they are still wounded every time we tell a falsely heroic story of conquest and colonization.” said von Wallmenich.
Although the simple change of a holiday’s title seems miniscule, it speaks volumes on the level of respect the United States has for indigenous people.
“I think that Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a very small step of acknowledging that the United States exists on land that was indigenous land and that indigenous people are still part of the United States. It seems like a small thing to say that if we think about a day commemorating our origins, it might be better to begin by commemorating indigenous people, who have not vanished. The stories we tell as a nation matter.” said von Wallmenich.