Columbus Day often brings to mind the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. This Monday, some cities and states would rather you think of the Sioux, the Suquamish and the Chippewa.
For the first time this year, Seattle and Minneapolis will recognize the second Monday in October as “Indigenous People’s Day.” The cities join a growing list of jurisdictions choosing to shift the holiday’s focus from Christopher Columbus to the people he encountered in the New World and their modern-day descendants.
The Seattle City Council voted last week to reinvent the holiday to celebrate “the thriving cultures and values of Indigenous Peoples in our region.” The Minneapolis City Council approved a similar measure in April “to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city.”
In many cities, Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian-American heritage, leading to opposition to the recasting of Columbus Day.
“Italian-Americans are deeply offended,” Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America, told The Seattle Times.”By this resolution, you say to all Italian-Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition.”
President Benjamin Harrison established a celebration of Columbus Day in 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus’ landing in the Bahamas in 1492. The holiday started being celebrated on the second Monday in October in 1971. Today, 16 states, including Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon, don’t recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day since 1990.
Berkeley, California, is thought to be the first city to adopt Indigenous People’s Day in 1992, building on international efforts to end the celebration of Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World. The International Day of the World’s Indigenous People is celebrated on August 9 thanks to a 1994 United Nations General Assembly resolution.
The Italian explorer and his namesake holiday have long been controversial. Despite what American schoolchildren may have learned about when “Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” supporters of Indigenous People’s Day believe Columbus should not be celebrated for “discovering” America. Indigenous people had been living in the “New World” for centuries by the time he arrived, and his voyages established lasting connections between Europe and Americans that paved the way for its colonization, leading to the subjugation and decimation of the indigenous population.