Monday marked the 79th anniversary of the establishment of Columbus Day as a national holiday. The tradition first began in 1937 to commemorate Christopher Columbus’ landing in the Americas on Oct. 12, 1492.
While his expedition marks a pivotal moment in human history, it is also clear that Columbus and his colonial successors committed some of humanity’s most despicable atrocities.
This past Monday, a group of students attended an Indigenous People’s Day event on the Beach, which was very well received by many members of our community.
The Editorial Board commends the organizers of this year’s event for celebrating this important occasion and raising awareness. We also support the willingness of the Office of Multicultural Affairs (OMA) to work with indigenous students.
Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola initiated a centuries-long period of European colonization, expansion and exploitation of the Americas, during which millions of Native Americans were slaughtered and purposefully exposed to fatal illnesses. Columbus also enslaved the natives of Hispaniola over the course of his multiple voyages.
It is clear that the voices of Native Americans are to this day ignored and discredited by the U.S. government, as evidenced by controversy over the proposed Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline would straddle the border between North and South Dakota, transporting oil across four states.
However, if built, it would also desecrate a burial ground of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe and potentially contaminate local waters. A federal court recently rejected the tribe’s request to halt work on the project. This movement shows that indigenous activism is still strong in the United States.
The Editorial Board calls on both the University and the federal government to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a national holiday, replacing Columbus Day.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first recognized by the city of Berkeley, Calif. in 1992, though talk of creating the it dates back to the 1970s. The trend of states, towns and colleges officially recognizing Indigenous People’s Day has gained significant traction in recent years.
In 2016 alone, it gained official recognition by Brown, Cornell and the University of Utah, among other colleges.
The Editorial Board writes in solidarity with those clamoring for change and therefore condemns Columbus Day as outdated, offensive and inappropriate.
It is disrespectful to honor and praise a man who committed genocide, the near exterminated of an entire continent of diverse peoples. The argument that Columbus Day is a fixture of our national heritage is also a myth, since it was established by the federal government less than a century ago.
By celebrating Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day, we are both paying respect to the millions of Native Americans who still live across the United States and shedding light on the many atrocities committed against their peoples.
American history books far too often overlook the less than savory moments of our past. This is certainly the case with Native American history.
The extent and scope of the genocide is hardly covered, and many students would likely cite the Trail of Tears as the only notable event they learned about in school.
While the Editorial Board would ultimately like to see Indigenous People’s Day gain federal recognition, we believe that adopting the holiday at the local and state level is a positive step toward initiating a national movement.
As a part of an official campus recognition, the Editorial Board encourages the History and Latin American Studies departments to partner with OMA in future years as part of the creation of official Indigenous Peoples’ Day campus programming.
This could take the form of a symposium highlighting Native American voices of the past and present or the distribution of resources and materials outlining the many atrocities waged against indigenous groups over multiple centuries.