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News > Culture

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day — the Dichotomy of a Celebration

  • Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day - the Dichotomy of a Celebration

    Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day - the Dichotomy of a Celebration | Photo: Reuters

Published 9 October 2018

Arguably the most controversial holiday in North America, many cities in the U.S. are taking a stand and focusing on those who suffered under Columbus' exploits. 

In Somerville, Massachussets, Mayor Joe Curtatone has scrapped Columbus Day celebrations to instead focus on Indigenous Peoples Day, recognizing their existence in the New World prior to Columbus, as well as the need to shift their focus to the suffering they experienced.


Indigenous Resistance Day

The irony surrounding Curtatone's decision is that, like Columbus, he is also of Italian descent. And while he admits he enjoys rejoicing that an Italian gets so much exposure in the U.S., the infamy that follows the 15th century explorer far outweighs his accomplishments.

When President Trump sent out his annual Columbus Day tweet, he commemorated the voyager by honoring "his remarkable accomplishments as a navigator, and celebrating his voyage into the unknown expanse of the Atlantic Ocean." Indeed, it was these exploits that people have focused on for decades, and while it can be argued that school systems are simply not informed enough to deliver the reality of Columbus' voyage, the president simply chose to ignore the sacrifices of Indigenous peoples.

Not since President Obama's Columbus Day speech in 2016 has a president highlighted the importance of the contributions of Indigenous peoples, acknowledging "the pain and suffering reflected in the stories of Native Americans, who had long resided on this land prior to the arrival of European newcomers."

While President Trump's tweet received backlash from the Twitter community, cities like Columbus in Ohio chose to focus their frustrations by breaking with decades of tradition and refraining from recognizing Columbus Day. San Francisco and Cincinnati are doing likewise, while Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont, and Oregon have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, and South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day for the last 30 years.

In Latin America, Indigenous Resistance Day is celebrated on October 12. This is in response to the 826 different Indigenous groups, of which 100 are in danger of losing their culture or disappearing completely.  

During Columbus' voyage, he intentionally subjected Native Americans to Old World diseases, while historian David Perry told CNN that "disease wasn't the only problem, he also took slaves back home and to work in his conquered lands." 

Perry does, however, acknowledge the impact Christopher Columbus' voyage had on modern society, citing "the great age of Atlantic exploration, trade, and eventually colonization by Europeans."  

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