By Malinda Maynor Lowery
Increasingly, Columbus Day is giving people pause.
Why Columbus?<p>Columbus Day is a relatively new federal holiday. </p><p>In 1892, a <a href="https://www.whatsoproudlywehail.org/curriculum/the-american-calendar/proclamation-on-the-400th-anniversary-of-the-discovery-of-america-by-columbus" target="_blank">joint congressional resolution</a> prompted President Benjamin Harrison to mark the "discovery of America by Columbus," in part because of "the devout faith of the discoverer and for the divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people."</p><p><a href="https://www.history.com/topics/westward-expansion/manifest-destinyin%20their%20conquest" target="_blank">Europeans invoked God's will</a> to impose their will on indigenous people. So it seemed logical to call on God when establishing a holiday celebrating that conquest, too.</p><p>Of course, not all Americans considered themselves blessed in 1892. That same year, a lynching forced black journalist Ida B. Wells to <a href="https://daily.jstor.org/peoples-grocery-lynching/" target="_blank">flee her home town of Memphis</a>. And while Ellis Island had opened in January of that year, <a href="https://www.nps.gov/elis/learn/education/upload/statistics.pdf" target="_blank">welcoming European immigrants</a>, Congress had already banned Chinese immigration <a href="https://www.ourdocuments.gov/doc.php?flash=false&doc=47" target="_blank">a decade prior</a>, subjecting Chinese people living in the U.S. to widespread persecution.</p><p>And then there was the government's philosophy towards the country's Native Americans, which Army Colonel Richard Henry Pratt <a href="http://historymatters.gmu.edu/d/4929/" target="_blank">so unforgettably articulated in 1892</a>: "All the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."</p><p>It took another 42 years for Columbus Day to formally become a federal holiday, thanks to <a href="https://www.loc.gov/item/today-in-history/october-12/" target="_blank">a 1934 decree</a> by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.</p><p>He was responding, in part, to a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, a national Catholic charity founded to provide services to Catholic immigrants. Over time, <a href="https://archive.org/details/faithfraternalis00kauf" target="_blank">its agenda expanded</a> to include advocacy for Catholic social values and education.</p><p>When Italians first arrived in the U.S., they were <a href="https://books.google.com/books/about/The_History_of_White_People.html?id=F-GFUyty3SAC" target="_blank">targets of marginalization and discrimination</a>. Officially celebrating Christopher Columbus — an Italian Catholic — became one way to affirm <a href="https://press.princeton.edu/books/paperback/9780691160825/impossible-subjects" target="_blank">the new racial order that would emerge</a> in the U.S. in the 20th century, one in which the descendants of diverse ethnic European immigrants became "white" Americans.</p>
Indigenous People Power<p>But some Americans started to question why Indigenous people — who'd been in the country all along — didn't have their own holiday.</p><p>In the 1980s, Colorado's American Indian Movement chapter <a href="https://www.westword.com/news/colorado-the-first-state-to-give-columbus-a-holiday-considers-abolishing-it-10844725" target="_blank">began protesting the celebration of Columbus Day</a>. In 1989, activists in South Dakota persuaded the state <a href="https://www.argusleader.com/story/davidmontgomery/2014/10/13/native-american-day/17194651/" target="_blank">to replace</a> Columbus Day with Native American Day. Both states have large Native populations that played active roles in the <a href="http://colorado-aim.blogspot.com/2012/10/war-on-columbus-day.html" target="_blank">Red Power Movement</a> in the 1960s and 1970s, which sought to make American Indian people more politically visible.</p><p>Then, in 1992, at the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage, American Indians in Berkeley, California, organized the first "<a href="https://www.berkeleyside.com/2017/10/09/berkeley-became-1st-city-dump-columbus-day-indigenous-peoples-day" target="_blank">Indigenous Peoples' Day</a>," a holiday the city council soon formally adopted. Berkeley has since replaced its commemoration of Columbus with a celebration of indigenous people.</p><p>The holiday can also trace its origins to the United Nations. In 1977, indigenous leaders from around the world organized a United Nations conference in Geneva to promote indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. <a href="http://ipdpowwow.org/Archives_1.html" target="_blank">Their first recommendation</a> was "to observe October 12, the day of so-called 'discovery' of America, as an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas." It took another 30 years for their work to be formally recognized in the <a href="https://www.un.org/development/desa/indigenouspeoples/declaration-on-the-rights-of-indigenous-peoples.html" target="_blank">United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples</a>, which was adopted in September 2007.</p>
Unexpected Allies<p>Today, cities with significant native populations, like Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, now celebrate either Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples' Day. And states like Hawaii, Nevada, Minnesota, Alaska and Maine have also formally recognized their Native populations with similar holidays. Many Native governments, like the Cherokee and Osage in Oklahoma, either don't observe Columbus Day or have replaced it with their own holiday.</p><p><span></span>But you'll also find commemorations in less likely places. Alabama <a href="https://www.al.com/news/2017/10/alabamas_weird_holiday_you_jus.html" target="_blank">celebrates Native American Day</a> alongside Columbus Day, as does North Carolina, which, with a population of more than <a href="https://files.nc.gov/governor/documents/files/Indigenous%20Peoples%27%20Day.pdf" target="_blank">120,000 Native Americans</a>, has the largest number of Native Americans of any state east of the Mississippi River.</p><p>Just last year, the town of Carrboro, North Carolina, <a href="https://townofcarrboro.org/CivicSend/ViewMessage/message/69242" target="_blank">issued a resolution</a> to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. The resolution noted the fact that the town of 21,000 had been built on indigenous land and that it was committed to "protect, respect and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights," including those of indigenous people.</p><p>While Columbus Day affirms the story of a nation created by Europeans for Europeans, Indigenous Peoples Day emphasizes Native histories and Native people — an important addition to the country's ever-evolving understanding of what it means to be American.</p>
- DC Joins Eight States, 100+ Cities in Swapping Columbus Day for ... ›
- Maine Becomes Latest State to Ditch Columbus Day for Indigenous ... ›
- 10 Indigenous People Whose Statues Should Replace Columbus’ ›
Maine became at least the seventh state in the U.S. to replace Columbus Day with a day honoring America's first inhabitants on Friday when Governor Janet T. Mills signed a bill to renaming it Indigenous Peoples' Day, The New York Times reported.
Oregon, Minnesota, South Dakota, Alaska, North Carolina and New Mexico have all renamed the holiday that falls on the second Monday of October, as have at least 130 cities and towns.
- On Indigenous People's Day, a Look at the Movement to Revive ... ›
- 10 Indigenous People Whose Statues Should Replace Columbus’ ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
By Rosalyn R. LaPier
Alaska has a "linguistic emergency," according to the Alaskan Gov. Bill Walker. A report warned earlier this year that all of the state's 20 Native American languages might cease to exist by the end of this century, if the state did not act.
On Indigenous People’s Day, a Look at the Movement to Revive Native Foodways and How Western Science Might Support—For a Change
By Ricardo Salvador
"Tribes are not sovereign unless they can feed themselves," noted Ross Racine, executive director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council. This is such a brutal fact that that the destruction of Native foodways was used by the U.S. government to effectively weaken, destroy and remove Native people from their ancestral lands during the period of Western colonization, genocide, expansion and cultural undermining that ran from the 17th into the present century (in the form of "Food Distribution Programs," largely the food that has made many Native communities both dependent and among the sickest in the world.)