Why Is Columbus Day So Controversial?

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In classrooms throughout the U.S., students are taught from a young age that Christopher Columbus discovered America. Columbus arrived in the Americas on October 12, 1492, so the U.S. government marks Columbus Day as an official federal holiday annually on the second Monday of October. This year, Columbus Day will take place Monday, October 14, and schools, post offices, and other public government facilities will be closed in honor of the occasion.

However, not everybody will be celebrating. The basis of Columbus Day’s founding has become controversial as indigenous activists have brought their discourse to the mainstream. These activists’ work has compelled certain regions of the U.S. to celebrate an entirely different holiday in place of Columbus Day: Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Explaining anti-Columbus sentiment

Upon learning that anti-Columbus sentiment exists, it may be natural to wonder why people might stand opposed to the person whom U.S. history courses often say paved the path towards establishing the United States. However, when Columbus and his crew arrived in the Americas, they displaced and murdered the indigenous people who lived here long before Columbus’ arrival – and not everyone forgives these actions.

Indigenous people often claim that non-indigenous Americans live on “stolen land.” In fact, they sometimes go so far to say that Columbus didn’t discover America but, rather, colonized it. Thus, in their eyes, Columbus Day doesn’t celebrate just the path that Columbus paved towards the U.S. becoming the global power it is today. According to them, the holiday makes a national event out of indigenous genocide and colonization. Indigenous Peoples’ day developed in response to this perceived atrocity.

How Indigenous Peoples’ Day came to be

Columbus Day became an official holiday in 1937 when President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed it into law. Some 54 years later, the city of Berkeley, California signed Indigenous Peoples’ day into law within its confines. The following year, 1992, marked the 500-year anniversary of Columbus’ arrival in the U.S., but instead of celebrating a half-millennium of Columbus’ influence, Berkeley residents participated in activities that honor those who have perished and suffered in the wake of anti-indigenous violence. 

Where Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated today

Nearly 30 years after Berkeley founded Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the holiday has come to replace Columbus Day in not just cities across the country, but entire states. Vermont, Maine, New Mexico, Alaska, and Oregon all celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day statewide. Additionally, South Dakota celebrates Native American Day, as it has since the year before Indigenous Peoples’ Day was founded. Hawaii celebrates Discovery Day in honor of the Polynesian people who first discovered the islands.

Additionally, many cities outside these states celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Major cities including Denver, Minneapolis, Nashville, and Austin have all eliminated Columbus Day from their calendars.

How to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The vast majority of Americans are familiar with how Columbus Day is celebrated. Indigenous Peoples’ day, on the other hand, may be less familiar. Advocates for the newer holiday suggest attending events that indigenous people organize and host on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, donating to indigenous organizations, and publicly disavowing Columbus’ slaughter of indigenous people.

Are you planning to celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Get the debate going in the comments!

One thought on “Why Is Columbus Day So Controversial?

  • October 13, 2019 at 12:53 am
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    History right or wrong is history. Instead of changing the name of that holiday, and cancelling out the accomplishment of Columbus ,one should include the indigenous people day.only, have it a separate day . Have it the next day! Your point will be more well taken.
    in expansionism, one group of people always loses, in order for the explorer to gain. In Columbus’ case, spain became the most wealthy country on earth for a time. Because he sailed under the spainish flag. The natives of hispainola suffered some. It is a hard cold fact of history. It should not be changed.

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