WASHINGTON — For many Americans, Columbus Day is meant to commemorate the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1492.
The first of these celebrations occurred in 1792, 300 years after Columbus’ first arrival in the region. By its 400th anniversary, Columbus, hailed as a pioneer for ‘progress and enlightenment, was given an official holiday in 1892 by former U.S. President Benjamin Harrison.
However, in 2021, U.S. President Joseph R. Biden Jr. rebranded the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. This change was meant to tribute to the culture and history of the people who resided here before Columbus’ arrival.
This change has notably begged the question of what was amiss with the initial name and reason for the holiday.
Simply put, Columbus’ actions towards the natives who predated his presence here are viewed as controversial.
While he was celebrated as a ‘discoverer’, Native Americans understand him as a colonizer who forcefully took their land and allowed mass death and eradication of Indigenous culture.
To understand the drastic and painful effects of Columbus’ actions in the United States, a United Nations report estimates that the 15th century or “pre-Columbus” population of North America was approximately 10 to 12 million and by the 1890s, it was diminished to around 300,000.
As such, having a federal holiday to commemorate these actions added insult to injury for many native communities still in the country.
Considering the numerous generations of Native Americans who have protested against the holiday, the switch has been seen as long overdue by their communities.
Therefore, by removing the holiday’s association with Columbus through name and rebranding its reason for celebration, Indigenous Peoples’ Day provides an opportunity to see the event it marks through the eyes of Indigenous people.
Instead of downplaying the actions of European settlers, the newly named holiday offers the ability to reconcile friction between the opposing perspectives of the events that transpired in 1492 and onwards.
Before Biden formally recognized Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2021, early movements toward the change had transpired as early as the 1970s. While the name change can’t reverse what happened to native communities, it can go a long way in preserving a fundamental culture that has been harmed throughout American history.
Today, the following states in America do not celebrate Columbus Day:
- New Mexico
- North Carolina
- South Dakota
In 2022, the Maryland General Assembly introduced a bill to rename the state holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day. That bill never made it out of committee.
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