Nearly a century after the first proposals to celebrate perhaps the architect of arguably the worst genocide in history, Christopher Columbus, cities, states and universities in the U.S. are beginning to abandon the national holiday to instead honor Columbus's victims.
The state of Vermont is the latest to make the change. Governor Pete Shumlin signed an executive order Oct. 7 designating the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day. Vermont joins nearly a dozen cities and at least one state – Alaska – that have made the switch in the last year alone.
Portland, Albuquerque, Eugene, Oregon, Cambridge, Massachusetts, Yakima, Washington, Phoenix, Boulder, East Lansing, Denver, Santa Fe, and Flagstaff have all voted to unceremoniously dump the holiday glorifying European colonial conquest. The city manager of Hartford Connecticut has said council members will vote on the name change within a few months.
Those cities and state follow the decision two years ago by Seattle and Minneapolis to recognize Indigenous People's Day. And since 1990, the holiday has been known as Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota, and as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in Berkeley, California since 1992.
WATCH: Latin America Kicks Out Columbus
On the scholastic front, schools like Brown University, Fort Lewis College, and the Niagara-Wheatfield School Board have decided to forego celebrating the Italian explorer.
But while Indigenous activists have enjoyed some successes on the local level, the erasure of Columbus's name from the holiday roster in the U.S. will require Congressional approval, which, as the Daily Beast reported, doesn’t rank it high on their list of priorities.
And some states are downright hostile: Oklahoma lawmakers rejected the change twice in the last two years.
Members and supporters of the Mexica Movement march across the overpass of Hollywood Freeway as they protest against Columbus Day in downtown Los Angeles, California, Oct. 11, 2015. | Photo: Reuters
Much of the resistance comes from Italian-Americans, who were subjected to racism and xenophobia as more than two million arrived in the U.S. in the first decade of the 20th century. As Italians followed Irish and German immigrants and assimilated into the tribal culture, many began to extol Columbus, the Italian that was credited for "discovering America," despite having never actually set foot in what later became the United States. Still, it directly linked Italian-Americans to U.S. history, expunging them of "foreignness."
While President Benjamin Harrison called for a national observance of Columbus Day in 1892 – 400 years after Columbus arrived in the Americas – it didn’t become a federal holiday until 1934. Historian Laurence Bergreen has estimated that when the nefarious ‘explorer’ arrived in what is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti, the Indigenous population was at least 300,000. Through disease, enslavement, and violent dispossession, that number dropped to about 500 by 1550, according to the Guardian reports.Farther south, Latin America commemorates Columbus’ arrival with Día de la Raza — but similarly, many others throughout the Americas are abandoning the holiday.