Holidays are for celebrating history, not erasing it – Indigenous Peoples’ Day vs. Columbus Day

Indigenous children smiling

What holiday should we celebrate in America? Columbus Day, honoring the European explorer who sailed to the Americas and located land for Europeans that would become the United States, or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, created to honor the history of all the diverse cultures that were already living here when Europeans arrived? It might seem like an odd question, but many cities and states have already picked sides and changed from celebrating Columbus to celebrating Indigenous Peoples. It’s an issue with growing controversy behind it. When you consider the merits of each holiday, it’s easy to see why there’s so much disagreement over which should be celebrated.

Why was there a change from celebrating Christopher Columbus to Indigenous People’s Day?

There has been a push to change the name of the holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day to recognize and celebrate Native American people and their culture. Many people use this day as an opportunity to educate themselves on indigenous cultures and how they were marginalized by European settlers in North America.

The intersection of genocide and colonialism

As the descendants of those displaced from their homes due to colonization, Native American peoples should be able to decide how they want to celebrate their ancestors and what they want to commemorate with a holiday. In addition, Columbus was a known slave trader and therefore is not an appropriate figure to commemorate on a day celebrating freedom.  So why should they be celebrated together?

What will we celebrate next year if we choose IPD over CD?

Indigenous Peoples’ Day is on the second Monday in October of each year and celebrates the cultures and contributions of indigenous people to history. The idea was first proposed by Indigenous peoples at a United Nations conference in 1977 held to address discrimination against Natives, as NPR has reported. But South Dakota became the first state to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in 1989, officially celebrating it the following year. IPD was created to honor these contributions and histories with an indigenous-focused day instead of celebrating a man who may not have discovered America.

What does renaming Columbus day do for Native Americans today?

Renaming Columbus Day would provide a sense of pride and belonging to many Native Americans who have felt marginalized by the celebration of Christopher Columbus, who committed atrocities against them and their ancestors. It would also help educate non-Natives about Native American cultures in North America and the significant contributions they’ve made to society since time immemorial.

How can we pay more respect to those who lived here before us now on IPD than we did on CD in the past? It’s a false equivalence to compare the two days in this way because they’re about completely different things: one is about recognizing the genocide of indigenous peoples, and the other celebrates European colonization and conquest. We should celebrate both days, but if forced to choose, I would pick IPD because it’s closer to what we need right now as a society than CD has ever been.-MM



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