Why Columbus Day Was Replaced by Indigenous Peoples' Day

Why Columbus Day Was Replaced by Indigenous Peoples' Day

"On Indigenous Peoples' Day, we honor the sovereignty, resilience, and immense contributions that Indigenous peoples have made to our world. And we will uphold our treaty obligations to tribal nations, strengthening our nation-to-nation relationships," stated President Joe Biden in the Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples' Day in 2022.

Columbus Day continues to be a federal holiday. According to Pew Research, it is still exclusively observed as Columbus Day in 16 states.

According to Reynaldo Morales, a professor at Northwest University and a descendant of the Kechua people in Peru, continuing to celebrate Christopher Columbus implies ignoring his well-documented history of atrocities. Morales specializes in American Indian and Indigenous studies and covers environmental issues affecting Indigenous communities worldwide.

"We know that Indigenous peoples compare Columbus to Hitler," Morales said. "Even though there are some gory details in this history, it is crucial for us to understand how callous the celebration of Columbus Day is and what impact it can have on today's Indigenous Americans or Indigenous communities."

A Brutal History

Columbus's 1492 voyage is taught in American schools from a young age, but it omits the massacre he orchestrated upon arriving in the Americas.

Morales noted that Columbus and his men brought a "scale of violence that reached genocidal levels unprecedented on the large American continent before Europeans."

Here are a few examples of Columbus's atrocities, as reported by Philadelphia Magazine:

  1. Columbus ordered the hands of around 10,000 Indigenous people in Haiti and the Dominican Republic to be cut off because they didn't deliver gold every three months.
  2. Minor offenses were punished with the cutting off of noses and ears.
  3. Columbus and his crew hunted Indigenous people for sport, releasing them to be torn apart by hunting dogs.
  4. Columbus cut off the legs of local children who attempted to escape.
  5. He facilitated the trafficking of nine- and ten-year-old girls for sexual exploitation.

"We have no basis to celebrate the legacy or figure of such a criminal," Morales said.

Why Celebrating Columbus Day Is Harmful

Given the well-documented cruelty towards Native Americans, Morales argued that celebrating Columbus Day signifies an assertion that lost lives do not matter. In reality, he contended, echoes of Columbus's actions persist to this day.

Columbus used the Doctrine of Discovery to claim that these lands could be taken because they weren't ruled by Christians. Morales stated that this means they started exploiting land and resources that people had been sustainably managing for thousands of years.

The result includes disproportionate impacts on the health, economy, and environment of Indigenous Americans, who have a lower life expectancy than people of other races.

Morales said that Indigenous Americans have been on the continent for 16,000 years, but their history primarily involves colonization in the last 500 years.

The Indigenous Peoples' Day Movement

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day signifies standing against the violence associated with colonization, Morales said.

"By celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day, we collectively condemn Columbus's crimes as crimes against humanity," Morales said.

It is also a celebration of the contributions of Indigenous communities.

"By celebrating Indigenous peoples, we underscore that the lives, cultures, languages, and knowledge of Indigenous peoples in the United States and on the larger continent form the foundation of our society," he said. "Lastly, we reflect on how Indigenous peoples emerged from the darkest chapters of U.S. history to become some of the most important defenders of the environment and leaders in biodiversity conservation."


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