Let’s Stop Celebrating Columbus Day & Start Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Today is Columbus Day — a federal holiday in the United States only recognized by the lucky few who have the day off (or the frustrated few who happen upon closed post offices). It used to be a time for Americans to celebrate the “founding” of the “New World” by Christopher Columbus. But over the years, Americans have realized that Christopher Columbus isn’t really a great guy to celebrate and discovered something better to honor: indigenous people.
History of Indigenous Peoples’ Day
The idea to replace Columbus Day with a day celebrating indigenous people of North America is not new; it first arose in 1977 at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Population, sponsored by the United Nations. At the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, in July 1990, representatives of indigenous groups agreed that they would celebrate a day to promote “continental unity” and “liberation” in October 1992 — the 500th anniversary of the first voyage of Christopher Columbus.
Berkeley, California became the first city to symbolically rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992, and other local governments and institutions followed its lead including the state of South Dakota, which celebrates Native American Day. This year also marks the first year that Minneapolis and Seattle will celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“We’re making sure that we acknowledge the absolute horrors of colonization and conquering that happened in the Americas at the hands of the European so-called explorers, and Columbus was on of the primary instigators,” said Socialist City Councilmember Kshama Sawant, one of the sponsors of the resolution to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
What Indigenous Peoples’ Day Can Mean for Environmental Spirituality
Unfortunately, the continued celebration of Columbus Day perpetuates a belief that culture didn’t exist in the United States until Europeans arrived — that this land needed “discovering” and that American history began in 1492. But that belief couldn’t be further from the truth. There are myths and legends attached to many of our natural landmarks that date back millennia. And a greater understanding of these myths and legends, and the indigenous people who inhabited the land, only increases an appreciation of the natural beauty of the United States — a sense of inspired patriotism.
Attending Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrations and events may also increase non-Native American understanding of nature’s gifts. Over the weekend, the Tsi Akim Maidu tribe participated in a traditional Maidu ceremony of “Calling Back the Salmon” on California’s Yuba River as part of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrations. A couple hundred people attended — both Native American and non-Native American — and watched in silence as the fish was honored before getting cleaned and cooked.
Mike Hubbartt, who lives in the area, attended the event for the third year in a row. “There’s a spirituality to the people and their culture that’s hard for us to understand and articulate,” he said. He added that just sitting back and listening during events is the best way to appreciate them and to develop a sense of understanding.
While this “sense of understanding” can mean different things to different people, it’s easy to assume that the people at the event understood what celebrating the salmon meant for the environment. It’s not about protecting the environment because that’s the law or politically correct thing to do — it’s about honoring the environment because without it we wouldn’t have delicious salmon to eat.
Let’s Make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a Thing
Last weekend, John Oliver did a great piece asking how Columbus Day is still a thing? He pointed to the atrocities committed by Columbus on the indigenous people and the ridiculousness of the assumption that the New World needed discovering. He asked us to really consider why we were still celebrating such a holiday. Wouldn’t it be better to celebrate something actually worthy of celebration?
I think more cities and states should make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a thing. Not only does it make sense to honor indigenous people, but acknowledging Native American culture and history could make us more patriotic, environmentally-aware citizens. That’s something that’s actually worth celebrating.
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