In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; and in 1493, Columbus enslaved and tortured an entire indigenous population. It doesn’t quite fit the rhyme scheme, but it does more accurately depict the legacy of long-celebrated explorer Christopher Columbus — the namesake of Columbus Day.
This past Monday, federal offices throughout the United States were closed in recognition of Columbus Day. Celebrated each year on the second Monday of October, Columbus Day was first recognized as a national holiday by FDR in 1937. In recent years, the holiday has received well-deserved pushback for celebrating a historical figure who represents the colonization and oppression of various indigenous populations.
Over the past five years especially, many U.S. cities and states have chosen to instead celebrate Indigenous People’s Day during the second week of October. This switch seeks to honor the population of people whom Columbus brutally ruled over after he accidentally happened upon the New World.
Some political figures, however, continue to support the celebration of Columbus in the U.S. by protecting his statues and monuments, as well as the federal holiday. This year, President Trump released a White House proclamation in commemoration of the holiday stating, “Sadly, in recent years, radical activists have sought to undermine Christopher Columbus’ legacy.”
Perhaps President Trump has confused the educated historians who are reminding the American people of Columbus’ verifiable actions for uninformed radical activists. The reality is, the great discoverer of the New World never even set foot on the land we now know to be the United States. So why are we so set on this man getting a national holiday? Further, the islands which he did successfully sail to, he didn’t discover — he colonized, ultimately leading the way for the colonization and gruesome oppression which occurred in the U.S.
Maintaining Columbus Day as a national holiday elevates Columbus to the level of MLK and other esteemed American figures who receive an entire day dedicated to their memory each year.
Recognizing Indigenous People’s Day as a national holiday instead could represent an important step forward by the American government and people in honoring our indigenous population. The oppression and injustices facing America’s native population have continued long beyond Columbus’ era. Still today, Native Americans have the highest poverty and unemployment rates of any demographic in the U.S. Additionally, they face grave healthcare and education disparities, holding the lowest high school graduation rate and the highest infant mortality rate.
While replacing Columbus Day with the celebration of Indigenous People’s Day won’t solve any of these long-standing economic and social inequalities, it may help to draw attention to the more than 5 million historically mistreated Americans; not to mention how it would help end the unreasonable celebration of Christopher Columbus.