Columbus Day: Shift the Focus

Can you tell me what the upcoming holiday is? Depending on who you are, that answer is going to change. For most, it’s Columbus Day and the history taught in school, and for others, Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Regardless of what you call it, the celebration of Columbus can be taken as an insult to those who know the larger story.

For Native Americans, the day is often a reminder of a turning point in our history that did not treat us well. The events that took place following the years after Christopher Columbus discovered the “New World” could have been handled differently. Though to have a say in it, I think it’s necessary to redress the topic.

Christopher Columbus was a sailor sponsored by the Spanish Monarchy. Between 1492 and 1504, he traveled back and forth between Europe and an area within the Caribbean, around Cuba and South America. He discovered new lands, and with it, new peoples. Unfortunately, following the years of their discovery, Columbus and his men committed a number of crimes against them, ranging from slavery to murder. Following his return to Spain, Columbus was tried and found guilty for his crimes and stripped of his titles. Today, however, Columbus is recognized less for his crimes and more for his discovery. For some, this topic can be difficult to address, and it’s hard though not impossible to find supporting evidence for some of the more drastic crimes of Columbus.

In 1937, Columbus Day was instituted as a U.S. Federal holiday. though it was celebrated in some places as early as the 18th century. This “holiday” is no stranger to opposition from many groups, especially Native American and Indigenous peoples, who have been part of push to transform Columbus Day into a day not commemorating Christopher Columbus.

In California and South Dakota, Native American Day has already replaced Columbus Day, and in more states still, such as Alaska and Hawaii, Indigenous Peoples Day has replaced it. These new declarations take into account the recognition of past wrongs and instead celebrate Native and indigenous peoples.

For all of my life, Columbus Day has been recognized, but when Native American Day was first established in South Dakota, I remember believing it was a good change in a right direction. Hopefully, some day, Columbus Day will shift to a holiday that can focus on triumphs over the past rather than the past itself, can help close a gap between different cultures, and can hold a moment to celebrate the Native cultures that are still here despite the past.

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