By Shaelyn Hood, Tulalip News
Columbus Day was first declared a national holiday in 1934 and became a federal holiday in 1968. But as the country continues to develop a better understanding for Native history and culture, the movement to instate Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a holiday continues to grow across the nation. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to honor and celebrate Indigenous people in our society, the wrongs that have been done upon them, and commemorate their history as being the first inhabitants of North America. A group of Native Americans first proposed the day at a United Nations conference in 1977. Nonetheless, it wasn’t until 1989 that South Dakota became the first state to switch Columbus Day to Native Americans’ Day and celebrated it for the first time in 1990. Berkeley was the first U.S. city to transition from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. However, for many years, the government and our education system has failed to recognize the dark history that took place in order to construct America.
Since 1934, this is the first nationwide recognition, where we have seen governors, school-board leaders, and institutions unite and acknowledge this day. President Joe Biden recently released a statement saying, “We must never forget the centuries long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country”.
Many Native Americans are still in pain over this holiday, and over America’s history of treatment towards Natives. They feel Columbus Day fails to acknowledge the genocide and the violent colonization of Indigenous people, and rather only focuses on the perspective of celebrating Christopher Columbus’ journey.
“We are really strong people. We have gone through genocide and racism, and we are still here. The strength in our culture, strength in our community, and in our families, are all really strong protective factors against so much of the darkness.”
– Amanda Boyd, WSU associate professor, Edward R. Murrow College of Communication
Logs that were written by Christopher Columbus are seared into the brains of natives, “They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned … They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome feature … They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane … They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
Many similar horrific statements by Christopher Columbus were documented and illustrated the derision he had towards Indigenous people and the covetousness towards the land that belonged to them.
For many Native Americans the question remains, why do we still recognize Columbus Day? For some Americans, they believe it is important to honor the courage and determination that the immigrants had to seek freedom in what is now known as America. For others, they view the holiday as a way to commemorate their Italian-American ancestors, and recognize a time where Italian-Americans were receiving mistreatment.
Across the nation, it remains a debate of whether to celebrate one versus the other, or whether it is okay to celebrate both. In any case, it is widely discussed that Indigenous Peoples’ Day should be recognized as a federal holiday.
Amanda Boyd, a WSU associate professor for the Edward R. Murrow College of Communication, and Métis and Dane-zaa tribal member from Treaty 8 territory in Canada, talked about how Indigenous Peoples’ Day benefits students, “I would love to see every American on Indigenous Peoples Day take some time to understand whose land they’re on. To learn something about the history of the people who lived here and learn about our past, even if there’s darkness there. But also, to learn about our resiliency. It’s one more day. One more step to recognition, and to understanding our past.”
Boyd went on to say, “We are really strong people. We have gone through genocide and racism, and we are still here. The strength in our culture, strength in our community, and in our families, are all really strong protective factors against so much of the darkness.”
At a time when the world is awakening to the devastating history of America, Indigenous people are joining together. And even though for many Native Americans, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an important first step, many people believe there is a long way to go.