When I was younger, the second Monday of every October meant a day off from school, a day of relaxation, a day of no stress and no homework. However, as I grew older, I learned about the origins of Christopher Columbus’ landing in North America- a truly horrific beginning to a country. In elementary school, Christopher Columbus was lauded in the songs, books, and stories we discussed as a class. I didn’t truly understand the degree of chaos and destruction he had initiated until the middle of my high school career. It was in AP Euro where I learned that Columbus’ discovery sparked the deaths and wipeout of millions of Native Americans, and began the annihilation of the people who called America their home first.
Thankfully, many people have been recognizing and are recognizing that perhaps Columbus should not be celebrated each year. Instead, the Native Americans who were forced to give up their lands time and time again should be commemorated. To read more about the injustices facing Native Americans, read my article Native Americans: Then and Now.
South Dakota was the first state to recognize Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day in 1989. Since then, fourteen states including Washington, D.C. - California, Arizona, New Mexico, Alaska, Louisiana, Virginia, Minnesota, Iowa, Michigan, North Carolina, Maine, Wisconsin, Oregon, and Vermont- have adopted Indigenous People’s Day, many in recent years. Although many state legislatures have not adopted Indigenous People’s Day, many cities and towns celebrate it anyway.
The death of George Floyd earlier this year sparked a cultural reckoning with systemic racism and violence in the U.S. against black, brown, and indigenous people — including the very story many of us are taught about the “discovery” of America. I wish I had not been blind all of my childhood and was taught the truth of Christopher Columbus instead of thinking he was this “amazing” man who was responsible for the discovery of the country we all live in. The songs and stories I learned are so far from the truth, and millions of children are learning these same songs and stories every year. I pray the school system will learn to scrap these, as they are only feeding the future of America more lies. I think that people should not be ashamed of the past, because millions of unjust events happened, and we can’t change that. We can only look to our present and future, think about how we should learn from past mistakes, and not allow history to repeat itself. This can start with the national recognition of Indigenous People’s Day in place of Columbus Day, as this will give recognition to the Native tribes who were treated so poorly and educate future generations about these tribes instead of the man who caused their suffering. It will likely take many years, as change is gradual, but more and more states are adopting Indigenous People’s Day.
However, in certain states, the adoption of Indigenous People’s Day might come later rather than sooner. I live in New York, a relatively democratic, progressive state. So why hasn’t New York adopted this holiday? Great question. New York has a very high population of Italian Americans, and since Columbus was an Italian explorer, it makes sense that Italian Americans are proud of the contribution Columbus made to the world and celebrate Columbus Day. However, I hope one day that more and more people will look at the cold, hard truth of Columbus and history instead of hiding it away and pretending it didn’t happen. Columbus’ exploration changed the world forever, but with major consequences. The question is, are Columbus’ achievements worth commemorating over the millions of Natives who lost their land, culture, and people? My answer is the latter.