another Columbus Day behind us, America must ask the question: Why are
we still celebrating Columbus Day, and exactly what are people
is the time to take the Columbus out of Columbus Day; eliminate the
man’s name from the day and replace it with something else — something
relevant and meaningful, something life-affirming and something which
acknowledges a violent legacy and reaffirms those victims and survivors
of the violence. In these days of social change, people are beginning
to look at the world, our history and our past and current practices in
a different light. And now is as good a time as any to divest ourselves
of that which does not work, makes no sense or tarnishes and devalues
us as human beings.
Columbus’ claim to fame was that he got the ball rolling on white
supremacy, manifest destiny and European colonial conquest of the
Americas. The genocide, theft and forced relocation of Native
Americans, and the kidnaping and enslavement of African people, all
followed from this man. To pour more salt into the wound, Columbus was
credited with discovering a land in which civilization had thrived for
thousands of years, as if the populations who had lived there were
One way or another, Columbus Day needs a reboot, a rebranding.
It is no wonder that this is one of the most inconsistently celebrated holidays in the U.S., with only 23 states making
it a paid holiday for their employees, according to Pew Research
Center. Even today, Columbus Day parades tend to focus on themes such
as the contributions of Italian-Americans, a celebration of the courage and spirit of American exploration, and even, as was the case in Chicago last year, a tribute to Italians who sheltered Jews from the Nazis during the Holocaust. In the Washington Post, a
number of Italian-Americans have even offered their suggestions on
other Italian-Americans who could be honored rather than Columbus.
are alternatives to celebrating a genocidal figure such as Columbus.
For example, in 1990, South Dakota created Native Americans’ Day, while
Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day in honor of Polynesian explorers. And nine cities in the U.S. have pushed for resolutions to recognize October 12 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in lieu of Columbus Day. Berkeley, California, became the first to establish Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, while Seattle and Minneapolis became the first major cities to follow suit in 2014.
week, the city of Albuquerque declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day, with a
resolution mentioning the 500 years of Indian resistance since
Columbus’ arrival, and marking the day “in an effort to reveal a more
accurate historical record of the ‘discovery’ of the United States of
America,” and to “recognize the contributions of Indigenous
peoples despite enormous efforts against native nations.”
recognizes the occupation of New Mexico’s homelands for the building of
our City and knows indigenous nations have lived upon this land since
time immemorial and values the process of our society accomplished
through and by American Indian thought, culture, technology,” the
resolution also read. Portland, Oregon, also just changed the day as
well, something tribal leaders have sought since 1954.
is not an accident but rather an organized, concerted effort for
change. “It is important to recognize there is a strategy on the
ground. There is organizing that happened to help advance these policy
agendas at the city council level,” said Minneapolis City
Councilwoman Alondra Cano, whose city announced in August that
Columbus Day became Indigenous People’ Day. Cano also noted that, for
years, indigenous groups have been educating the public about the
fallacies and true legacy surrounding Columbus.
In New York, hundreds were planning the Redhawk Native American Arts Council’s powwow as
a celebration of Native American culture but also to draw attention to
the injustices indigenous people have faced over the past half a
millennium, and as a contrast to the world’s largest Columbus Day
parade taking place just a few miles away.
there is yet another thought on rebilling Columbus Day in a bold, new
way — one which is consistent with an emphasis on the rights of
indigenous peoples — a day against violence. A national day for peace
and justice would allow time to reflect on the violence plaguing the
nation, which started with Columbus and the genocide of Native
Americans, and a legacy that the nation has refused to reconcile. The
conditions are fertile for a day against violence, given the growth of
the #BlackLivesMatter movement against police brutality and calls for
criminal justice reform. Further, the anniversary of the Million Man
March falls on the same week as Columbus Day, in the midst of
widespread national outrage over gun proliferation and homicides and
calls for gun control in the most violent nation in the advanced world.
This commentary was originally published in The Grio