Indigenous People’s Day is a counter-celebration against Columbus Day in the United States. It is sometimes called “Native American Day” and occurs on October 9 this year.
Today, many cities and states now recognize Indigenous People’s Day over or with Columbus Day. In fact, last week, the Salt Lake City Council voted to have Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day. They join 25 other cities nationwide in recognizing Indigenous People’s Day.
However, not everyone in Utah is happy about it. According to the Salt Lake Tribune, “The Italian American Civic League of Utah sent the City Council a letter Sept. 26, understanding the proposed resolution as the rejection of Columbus Day — “an uncalled-for affront to our culture” and “degrading and demeaning to all Italian-Americans.”
Learn more about the history and origins of Indigenous People’s Day 2017 here:
1. The Idea Was First Conceived in 1977
The idea of a replacement holiday for Columbus Day with a counter-celebration of Native American culture was first conceived of in 1977 at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, hosted by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland.
It took over twenty years for natives throughout all the Americas to agree on the enactment of the holiday. In 1990, at the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, native groups agreed that in 1992, exactly 500-years after Christopher Columbus’ expedition to the Americas, they would celebrate native culture in counter-protest to the government-sponsored Columbus Day.
The Declaration of Quito begins:
The Indians of America have never abandoned our constant struggle against the conditions of oppression, discrimination, and exploitation, which were imposed upon us as a result of the European invasion of our ancestral territories.
Our struggle is not a mere conjunctural reflection of the memory of 500 years of oppression, which the invaders, in complicity with the “democratic” governments of our countries, want to turn into events of jubilation and celebration. Our Indian People, Nations and Nationalities are basing our struggle on our identity, which shall lead us to true liberation. We are responding aggressively, and commit ourselves to reject this “celebration.”
2. Christopher Columbus Is a Divisive Character in History
Christopher Columbus, oftentimes accredited with “discovering America” by residents of the Americas, isn’t viewed in the same light by native peoples of the Americas.
In fact, he is viewed by most native groups not as a discoverer but as a subjugator, bringing with him European supremacy, slavery, and the harbinger of cultural genocide for Native Americans, and eventually Africans, too.
Columbus’ landing in Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic) wiped out the native Taino people with disease and slavery. Native population immune systems were not equipped to fight off common European diseases, like smallpox. When native populations were all but extinct from disease, the trans-Atlantic African slave trade was ramped up to fill this slavery void.
3. Some American Cities Have Adopted Indigenous People’s Day
After the 1992 Declaration of Quito, various United States adopted the measure to help celebrate native cultural and contribution to the United States.
The West Coast was the first to lead the charge, and in 1992, Los Angeles forewent Columbus Day altogether and declared the entire year “Year of the Indigenous People.” The idea was help pushed by a group of Native Americans at Berkley who were trying to publicize the idea that Columbus was a villain.
Since then many major cities have adopted an Indigenous People’s Day celebration option for its native populations, including San Francisco, Seattle, Minneapolis, Seattle, and, most recently, Salt Lake City. According to the Boston Herald, entire states that recognize the day include South, Minnesota, South Dakota, and Vermont.
Another date that has seen a resurgence on this day is also Leif Erikson Day, which honors the first known European in the Americas. Erikson, a Viking, beat Columbus to the Americas by 500 years.
4. Some Americans Disagree With Vilifying Columbus
Like any progressive movement that upsets tradition, there are those who are staunchly opposed.
And a lot of Americans find the entire idea of vilifying Christopher Columbus not only wrong, but also insulting. Especially by judging him with today’s standards.
In fact, Columbus may not have “discovered” America at all, as there is a long line of possible explorers that landed in the Americas before him, including Leif Ericson, Vasco da Gama, and Hal Wilson.
And accrediting the subjugating and destruction of Native American culture solely to one man is stated to be offensive by many Americans, especially Italian-Americans, who themselves were once subjected to racism.
5. Native Americans Are Still Subjugated
The problem with negative attitudes towards native populations in the Americas is still an ongoing issue in all modern day countries, and this may really be the motivating force of rancor seen by descendants of immigrants by natives towards Christopher Columbus. Columbus is merely seen as an icon of oppression and destruction of the once flourishing peoples of the Americas.
In Brazil, many natives are still struggling to keep their land rights as Brazilian industry pushes further into the Amazon rainforest.
Last month, members of an “uncontacted” Amazon tribe were murdered by illegal gold miners while gathering eggs along the river. According to the New York Times, one of the murderers may have stolen a hand-carved paddle from one of the massacred tribesmen.
In the United States, the Trump administration has been a vocal proponent of the Dakota Access pipeline, which protests made headlines around the world last year.