Indigenous Peoples Day is a celebration of the cultures and histories of the Native American people. It falls on the same day as Columbus Day — the second Monday in October — on purpose. It is meant as a revolt against celebrating Christopher Columbus, whose legacy is tainted by his treatment of the indigenous people he encountered in the Caribbean and Central and South Americas starting in 1492.
While the holiday dedicated to the first Americans may be new to some, Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in “1977 by a delegation of Native nations to the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas,” according to the Indigenous Peoples Day Committee.
The movement did not gain much traction right away. It was 25 years later in 1992, when the city council of Berkeley, California decided to adopt the holiday in place of Columbus Day at the urging and protests of John Curl, who lived in Berkeley and was one of the original organizers of the first Indigenous Peoples Day, Berkeleyside reported.
Curl and other Native Americans were driven to petition for the change as the federal government planned to commemorate the sailing of Columbus’ three ships from the East Coast and over into San Fransisco Bay to celebrate the 500 year anniversary of Columbus landing in the Americas.
Curl told Berkeleyside, “The Bay Area is a pretty progressive place and we did not want to be the center of a national celebration of imperialism and colonialism and genocide. We tried to turn it into something different, something positive.”
Columbus Day Was Implemented as a Way to Abate Discrimination Against Italian Immigrants But Adoration For the Man May Be Largely Based on Myth
The national holiday for Christopher Columbus, who never actually set foot in North America and who history remembers both as an explorer and someone responsible for genocide and being involved in the slave trade, was initially introduced as a way to “mainstream” Italian immigrants in the United States.
This was doable because the idea of Columbus as a benevolent and free-spirited pioneer was integrated into the American psyche after Washington Irving published a book in 1928 called A History of the Life and Voyages of Christopher Columbus, according to National Public Radio, who wrote that the book was “the source of much of the glorification and myth-making related to Columbus today and is considered highly fictionalized.”
According to NPR, Italian Americans had lived with discrimination and violence for much of the first century that they continually immigrated to the U.S. starting in 1820 and onward. A catholic organization called the Knights of Columbus, who embraced the idea of Roman-Catholics being part of American history and idealized Columbus lobbied to make Columbus Day a Federal Holiday and in 1934 it was signed into law under the Franklin Roosevelt administration.
Native People’s were not celebrated, but their conquerors were.
14 States Now Celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day
USA Today reports that “Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin – plus the District of Columbia and more than 130 cities observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of or in addition to Columbus Day.”
In a cultural climate in which injustices and those who perpetrated them — and continue to perpetuate those injustices — are being closely scrutinized in the wake of the Black Lives Matter protests, trading out Indigenous Peoples Day for Columbus Day may appeal to a larger population who relate more to communities who have been harmed and abused by early American explorers and colonizers and to those who view history through a more sympathetic lens concerning conquered peoples.
However, whether the federal government will ditch Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous People’s Day remains to be seen, and some see the maligning of Columbus as another way of erasing the long-standing American historical ideals that most people were taught in school. It’s possible that Columbus’ legacy could go the way of confederate leaders whose statues have been taken down or toppled over the last few years.
However, USA Today reported that President Donald Trump is pushing back on Indigenous People’s Day taking the place of Columbus Day. He said:
Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’s legacy. These extremists seek to replace discussion of his vast contributions with talk of failings, his discoveries with atrocities and his achievements with transgressions. We must teach future generations about our storied heritage, starting with the protection of monuments to our intrepid heroes like Columbus.