Columbus Day Increasingly Replaced by Indigenous Peoples Day

Photo: Alex Garland and Alex Garland, Demotix/Corbis via The Guardian

USA Today reports that the switch to Indigenous Peoples day began in 1977 but really gained traction 2014, and now at least eight states, 10 universities and more than 130 cities across 34 states observe it instead of Columbus Day, which many believe improperly glorifies the colonization of Native Americans.  But there are some who believe that this goes too far — many Italian-American heritage groups opposed the change and some states have compromised and celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day under a different name or date and Oklahoma celebrates both on the same day.

Why This Matters:  At a time when our country is more racially divided than ever, it is good to see that it is not all blue states and cities that are making the switch. According to USA Today,  “Maine and New Mexico changed the name in April, and Vermont followed suit in May. Minnesota made the change in 2016, followed by Alaska in 2017 and North Carolina in 2018. South Dakota has been celebrating Native Americans Day since 1990….Even Columbus, Ohio, named for the explorer, did not observe the holiday last year, citing a lack of funding to give city employees both Veterans Day and Columbus Day off.”  Many jurisdictions and businesses do not give their employees the day off — perhaps that is why this move to recognize native people has not had a bigger backlash.

When Did Columbus Day Start?

Columbus Day has a long history — celebrations date back to 1792 when New York City celebrated the 300th anniversary of his arrival.  Think about that — three hundred years — longer than we have been a nation had passed before the first Columbus Day.

Tribal Leaders Speak Up

For example, Chicago organizer Anthony Tamez-Pochel, who is Cree, Lakota and black, has been leading the charge to change the name of Columbus Day in Chicago. 

“For us to celebrate a man who’s done these horrible atrocities against indigenous people, to me, it’s a slap in the face. I understand where the Italian-American community is coming from, it gives them a chance to celebrate their heritage, but at the expense of another’s culture,” Tamez-Pochel said. “It’s wrong to spread false narratives of what actually happened. We have to start telling the truth, even in our schools.”

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