For every second Monday of October since 1937, millions of Americans have observed a federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus’ ‘discovery’ of the Americas. Now there is a growing movement to rectify history and honor the indigenous peoples who actually discovered North America first.
In an article for the Washington Post, Kristina Guerra explains how many activists are waging a war against Columbus Day and want to see it replaced by Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The Indigenous Peoples’ Day movement gained more momentum in early October 2016 when Vermont Gov. Peter Shumlin signed an executive order declaring that all second Mondays of October in Vermont from now on will be recognized as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. In addition to the state of Vermont, Phoenix and Denver recently joined a list of at least 26 cities that now observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day. The state of South Dakota and Berkley, California have been observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day as far back as the 1990s.
Columbus Day was proclaimed to be a national holiday in 1937 by President Franklin Roosevelt. The initial push to make Columbus Day a national holiday came from within the Italian-American community. At the time, many Italian-Americans claimed that Columbus, who was Italian himself, made an important historical contribution by connecting Europe to the Americas. Now, Columbus’ legacy is under attack from many critics who are quick to point out that Columbus never actually stepped foot in what is now North America and that Columbus’ discovery of the Americas eventually led to the colonization and genocide of millions of indigenous people.
The movement to recognize the plight of indigenous peoples of the Americas has been international. The original idea for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day came in 1977 when the United Nations held the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Peoples. Even in Spain, from where Columbus embarked on his journey to the Americas, members of Barcelona’s city council have advocated for the removal of a large statue of Columbus because of the negative impact that his explorations had on the indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Columbus will unquestionably remain an important historical figure. His legacy and whether or not that legacy should be celebrated seem to be much more debatable. For many, the time has now come to celebrate those who truly discovered the Americas first.