Growing up, we all likely encountered a very rosy description of Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus, how he sailed the ocean blue, discovered America, had three ships, blah, blah, blah. In reality, Columbus was something of a giant horror show in terms of his deadly impact on indigenous peoples, thirst for wealth, and relative indifference to the plight of others. Oh — and he likely introduced syphilis to Europe.
Is this really the kind of person who deserves a federal holiday?
For many, that answer is a resounding no. As more of Columbus's transgressions become known, there's increasing pressure to remove his name from anything to do with the second Monday in October and instead honor those who settled the "New World" thousands of years earlier. Last year, both Seattle and Minneapolis voted to stop recognizing Columbus Day in favor of "Indigenous People's Day." According to the Associate Press, the new holiday "celebrates the contributions and culture of Native Americans and the indigenous community."
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Inspired by this movement, the University of Alaska Southeast, Oklahoma University and even Fargo, North Dakota recently voted to also embrace Indigenous People's Day. In announcing the change, Oklahoma University president David Boren said the new holiday will feature a daylong celebration of Native culture on campus — including food, dance, the arts and special lectures.
“We must never forget the many injustices in our history in the treatment of Native people and never stop admiring the strength of Native people who have preserved their values and whose cultures and governments continue in the face of terrible adversities and injustices,” he wrote in a statement.
Currently, only 23 states recognize Columbus Day as a true holiday. While efforts to officially change its federal designation on social media appear to be gaining supporters, an official petition filed on WhiteHouse.gov is still well short of the 100,000 signatures needed for a response. Nevertheless, even in President Obama's annual declaration of the holiday, there appears to be a growing acknowledgement of the day to be not just about Columbus, but those who were also here long before.
"As we recognize the influence of Christopher Columbus, we also pay tribute to the legacy of Native Americans and our Government's commitment to strengthening their tribal sovereignty," wrote Obama last year. "We celebrate the long history of the American continents and the contributions of a diverse people, including those who have always called this land their home and those who crossed an ocean and risked their lives to do so. With the same sense of exploration, we boldly pursue new frontiers of space, medicine, and technology and dare to change our world once more."