In 1977, the United Nations sponsored a conference to discuss replacing Columbus Day celebrations in the Americas with an alternative called Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The motivation behind this action was to recognize that the colonization of the Western Hemisphere had a devastating impact on indigenous populations throughout both North and South America.
In 1990, indigenous groups from across the Americas met in Quito, Ecuador to plan to work against the planned celebrations of the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas. Part of the effort was to expose the myths associated with Christopher Columbus and to reveal his actions in exploiting and enslaving indigenous populations. In fact, the European colonization of the Americas is one of the worst examples of genocide against any people.
A planned 500th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Americas planned in San Francisco became one of the first protests against Columbus Day. In Berkeley California, Columbus Day was renamed as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Other communities began to take similar actions. At least 12 states no longer celebrate Columbus Day. The dates vary, but October 12 is the most common date of the celebration. The name of the day also varies with Native American Day being the most common alternative. As might be expected, the states that celebrate Indigenous People’s Day are the ones that have significant populations of Indigenous people.
In 2021, President Biden issued a presidential proclamation recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. What has been lost in the controversy about Columbus Day was its origin as a day to recognize the contributions of Italian Americans, not the man Christopher Columbus.
Beginnings are often forgotten and morph into changed meanings. Might October 12 eventually become a day that we recognize all the people that make up the melting pot we call the United States?
* * *
“We are at last being recognized as the indigenous people of this country whom must share in its future. This is not a day of national mourning for us. We must leave history behind us and look forward.”– Galarrwuy Yunupingu (indigenous leader)