Columbus Day in the United States or “Dia de la Raza,” in most Latin American countries, might soon be part of history books as Indigenous groups and supporters have been gaining gradual force in exposing the day as a celebration of genocide and the colonial theft of their lands and culture.
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From Seattle last year to Caracas over a decade ago, the institutional sanctification of a ritual that celebrates colonial genocide is no longer. But what might appear as isolated events, in fact, started in 1990 when 120 representatives of Indigenous Nations from across the continent gathered in Quito, Ecuador, to express a firm and collective rejection to "the jubilation and celebration" of "500 years of oppression."
In their public declaration, they affirmed that "we will turn that date into an occasion to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation."
In 2002, under the presidency of Hugo Chavez, Venezuela became the first country to recognize this plea and turned its "Dia de la Raza" into “Indigenous Resistance Day.”
At the time Chavez axed the “Dia de la Raza” — historically intended to celebrate the encounter between Spanish conquistadors and Native peoples — calling it out as “discriminatory, racist and pejorative.”
The Latin American version of Columbus Day has its historical roots in Spanish attempts to continue to maintain imperial control over their former colonies. In 1913, the president of the Ibero-American Union wanted to celebrate the "Festivity of the Spanish Race" to commemorate the "discovery of America," for allegedly blessing it with civilization and progress.
Venezuela's “Indigenous Resistance Day,” almost a century later, would instead honor the past and present struggles of native peoples and attempt to decolonize the history of the region, marked by looting, massacres and enslavement, which is even today put on a pedestal by imperial powers, in alliance with Latin America’s ruling elites.
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Argentine president Cristina Fernandez also recognized the colonial legacy represented by Dia de la Raza and, in 2004, renamed it the “Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity” as a way to recognize the rights of Indigenous peoples.
In 2011, Bolivia followed suit when President Evo Morales declared Oct. 12 the annual “Day of Decolonization and Day of Liberation, of Identity and Multiculturalism.”
Inaugurating the national holiday, Morales, the country's first Indigenous head of state said, “When our Abya Yala, our continent, was invaded by the Spanish they brought with them egocentrism, individualism, sectarianism, and regionalism by inventing borders ... that did not exist in our continent.”
He said this had been done by the Spanish in order to fuel hate and confrontations between peoples and facilitate “politics of theft and permanent looting of our resources.”
Following his regional allies, in 2011, Ecuadorean President Rafael Correa also renamed it the “Day of Multiculturalism and Pluri-nationality.” According to the Ecuadorean government, the day’s goal is to “recognize and rectify the true meaning behind the events of October 12” and “promote dialogue between different cultures and wisdoms.”
All of these moves represented a huge shift from 1917, when then Argentine President Hipólito Yrigoyen paid homage to “Dia de la Raza,” saying it is "eminently fair to devote the festival date in honor of Spain, mother of nations which gave, with the leaven of her blood and the harmony of her language, an immortal inheritance."
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Flanders interviews author and political activist Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, author of the book, "An indigenous peoples history of the United States," who discusses and analyzes Native American society before the colonial settlement and its lessons for today.