Indigenous Peoples Day is about more than a name change; it’s a refusal to allow the genocide of millions of Indigenous peoples to go unnoticed, and a demand for recognition of Indigenous humanity. Recognizing this day in place of what’s currently known as “Columbus Day” is a way to correct false histories, honor Indigenous peoples, and begin to correct some of the countless wrongs committed against Indigenous peoples of Turtle Island (what’s now known as the Americas).
Is a name change important?
Words have meanings; words control who and what we think about, and this has implications on our actions. If we continue to erase Indigenous peoples, and celebrate a colonizer (Christopher Columbus) instead, that will have a direct impact on the ways Indigenous peoples are treated. If we can’t even so much as celebrate the first peoples of this land, and not the person responsible for the largest genocide ever committed, then how can we expect good public policy or day to day treatment for Native Americans?
What good does a name change do for Indigenous peoples?
Native Americans are the racial group most affected by suicide, which is unsurprising considering the inaccurate and racist representation of Indigenous Peoples (not to mention the hundreds of years of genocidal public policy). “Columbus Day” and other forms of representation that normalize colonialism and genocide no-doubt affect the way Indigenous children and adults seem themselves (or don’t). America has been celebrating Indigenous genocide for decades, which does damage not only to Native children but also to non-Native children, since they have a false idea that this was empty land discovered by someone. Having a positive day at least once a year for Indigenous peoples is one move that can be made to begin to affect Indigenous representation, and help to remedy some of the harmful effects.
Why can’t we celebrate both?
These myths about “Columbus Day” and Indigenous Peoples Day are powerful, which is part of the reason why we are still fighting for basic recognition and rights. That’s why we are still fighting to have our history represented, like this movement for Indigenous Peoples Day in Boston, and even for necessities like the right for water happening in the fight against the Dakota Access Pipeline in North Dakota at Standing Rock.
Why can’t Indigenous Peoples Day be on a different day?
Not only is it important to reject the celebration of colonialism in the form of “Columbus Day,” but it’s also important to celebrate and recognize the accomplishments of Indigenous Peoples despite these seemingly insurmountable obstacles in its place. Indigenous Peoples are so often erased in society, that many forget Indigenous peoples still exist. For this reason, it’s important to begin to undo some of the harm done through this holiday, and to correct the false histories that have been inscribed.
Isn’t this holiday just about the discovery of America?
Columbus didn’t discover anything, instead stumbling upon thousands of different Indigenous groups with complex societies and systems. Columbus was so lost that he named the people he found “Indians” since he thought he’d stumbled upon the Asian country India, which is why Indigenous peoples from the Americas were historically referred to as “Indians” or “American Indians.”
I thought Columbus Day was about celebrating Italian American heritage?
Beyond the fact that Columbus was sailing for the Spanish monarchy since Italy wouldn’t fund his colonial expedition, or that Columbus was responsible for the deaths of millions of Native peoples throughout the Americas, “Columbus Day” is more of a Catholic holiday, pushed for by the Knights of Columbus in 1934 (a Catholic fraternity) than an Italian one.
It’s important to note that Indigenous Peoples Day is not anti-Italian, but rather, is anti-Columbus. We understand that Columbus and the harm he caused doesn’t represent the Italian people as whole. Thus, when we seek to abolish “Columbus Day” and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day, this move is not “anti-Italian,” but is instead anti-colonialism/genocide/etc. Many Italian Americans see Christopher Columbus not as a point of pride or celebration, but rather as an embarrassment. The month of October is Italian American Heritage month, offering Italian Americans the opportunity to celebrate the hundreds of Italian Americans who contributed to a positive, not genocidal, Italian American history.