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News > World

Los Angeles Rejects 'Genocidal' Columbus Day, Chooses to Honor Indigenous People

  • Olin Tezcatlipoca of the Mexica Movement stands with fellow protesters in an action against Father Junipero Serra.

    Olin Tezcatlipoca of the Mexica Movement stands with fellow protesters in an action against Father Junipero Serra. | Photo: REUTERS

Published 30 August 2017

Los Angeles used to be a vibrant center of culture for the Tongva people until the imposition of the Spanish mission system.

Los Angeles is the latest city to reject Columbus Day, spurning the genocidal explorer in favor of the Indigenous, aboriginal and native peoples of the Americas, who will now be honored on the second Monday of October.

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City council members voted 14-1 to replace the Italian seafarer's day with Indigenous Peoples Day after years of effort by the city's Native American population and supporters who pointed to the enslavement, rape and systematic extermination of the continent's original inhabitants that the so-called “discovery” of the Western Hemisphere entailed.

Once seen as the intrepid sailor whose 1492 landing in the Caribbean opened the door to a “civilizing” period for the continent's native peoples who were exposed to the "blessings" of Christiandom and modern society, the figure of Christopher Columbus now inspires the disgust of people of color in the United States who see him as the architect of the worst genocide in human history.

Historian Laurence Bergreen has estimated that when the nefarious “explorer” arrived in what is now the Dominican Republic and Haiti with a clear intent to subjugate locals, the Indigenous population was at least 300,000. Through disease, enslavement, and violent dispossession, that number dropped to about 500 by 1550.

“The Indians that were not exported were put into slavery on the island. There was literally no way to escape some form of enslavement. Columbus would let the settlers of his establishment choose whomever they wanted for their own,” One account claims that each settler had slaves to work for them, dogs to hunt for them, and beautiful women to warm their beds. This degradation of an entire group of people seemed not to bother Columbus or the Spaniards in any way. They appeared to consider it their right as superiors.”

Los Angeles, like the rest of California, used to be a vibrant center of Indigenous culture. The city was populated by the Tongva Tribe until the establishment of the Spanish mission system which enslaved locals, stole their land, forced them to convert to Christianity and exposed them to diseases from the Eurasian landmass.

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While Columbus never actually set foot in the territories now known as the United States, Columbus Day become a federal holiday until 1934. Seen as an occasion to teach in schools about the dominant U.S. ideological themes of religion, patriotism and a pioneering spirit, the holiday was also celebrated by assimilating Italian immigrants and successive generations of Italian-American who used the day to celebrate pride in their heritage.

The L.A. City Council hearing was reportedly marked by some dissent by Italian-Americans who saw the name change as “racially divisive” or a “slap in the face” to the group, however for those who remain close to their roots in the Indigenous nations of the continent the name change was a long-overdue matter of historical justice.

“Declaring Indigenous Peoples Day in Los Angeles will send a strong message to the rest of the nation that we are not ignorant of history,” said Councilman Mitch O’Farrell, a member of the Wyandotte Nation tribe in Oklahoma. “Nor afraid to confront its brutal past and embrace a future free from the stain of a psychologically harmful false mythology of our origins,”   

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