October the 8th 2018 served as an example of the ever-changing, socio-political and cultural understanding of America’s long held traditions. Since 1934, Columbus Day has been a national holiday, celebrating Columbus’ arrival to what are known today as the Americas. However, in recent years there has been a growing shift in social consciousness within the U.S., acknowledging the need to examine how this piece of history is portrayed. According to CNN, a dozen U.S. cities have decided to replace the celebration of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, in recognition of the nation’s First Peoples.
Joe Curtatone, mayor of Somerville, Massachusetts, declared that “Columbus Day is a relic of an outdated and oversimplified version of history”. This echoes former U.S. President Obama’s Columbus Day speech, which stated that “we must acknowledge the pain and suffering reflected in the stories of Native Americans who had long resided on this land prior to the arrival of European newcomers”. The recognition of the suffering of Native Americans by high-profile individuals within America’s political system is significant given the long history of Columbus Day celebrations. This tradition has had little regard for the negative implications of “European exploration, exploitation, and colonization of the Americas”, according to the Encyclopedia Britannica, as well as the painful history associated with this day for the Native American population.
Columbus Day celebrations throughout America resurface the pain felt by Native Americans year after year. The decision made by many U.S. states to redefine Columbus Day and re-frame its history in the interest of Native Americans, is a positive step forward in ending the ongoing discrimination faced by the First Peoples of the Americas. Not only this, but it sets a precedent for the status of Indigenous Peoples around the globe. Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day encourages understanding of the culture and citizenship of peoples who have been subjugated for many years. Furthermore, it opens up a dialogue surrounding the racism enacted upon and felt by native populations.
This resolution may be a small step, but it represents progress in acknowledging the violent treatment of Indigenous Peoples both in Columbus’ time and today. Re-framing a historical day in America’s timeline reveals the negative impacts of conflict and violence, and presents a small solution towards creating a more peaceful world. It is important to note that the oppression felt by America’s Native Peoples was not limited to the exploitation and colonization of their land, also impacting their health and status as human beings. Historian David Perry states that Columbus’ voyage to the Americas led to the spread of disease among the Native population. Thus plaguing the Indigenous peoples with the death of their families, friends, community and culture.
Native Americans suffered in 1492 and have continued to suffer everyday since, as the effects of colonizing their lands and eradicating their culture are still heavily felt. Perhaps the first step in repenting the violence committed upon Native Americans is simply the recognition and celebration of their existence as peoples. However, the social celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day must also coincide with the political recognition of Native American rights. This first begins with shaping the narrative to acknowledge the atrocities resulting from white Western imperialism, followed by political change. Native communities are still targeted by institutional racism, demonstrated by the controversy surrounding events such as the Dakota Access Pipeline. Therefore, celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day is meaningless if we are not committing ourselves to the daily rights and livelihoods of native communities.
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