Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Each year, many around the United States celebrate Columbus Day to honor the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492 and “discovered” the Americas. Columbus Day happens each year on the second Monday of October to (somewhat) coincide with the day Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani in the Bahamas (October 12th, 1492). It wasn’t until 1971 that the day was officially recognized as a federal holiday but Colorado was the first state to recognize it in 1907.

However, many object to and protest the celebration of Christopher Columbus, as his arrival on Guanahani in 1492 brought horrific mistreatment, physical and cultural genocide, and enslavement of countless indigenous peoples. There is so much that I know I didn’t learn about the man in school. For starters: he wasn’t the first European to cross the Atlantic, he didn’t actually discover the Americas (oh hey indigenous peoples who have been on the continent for an estimated 15,000 years), and when he died, he was still convinced that he found a new passage to India.

There’s still so much more about Columbus, as he enslaved, mutilated, and otherwise mistreated the indigenous peoples he came across. The Taino people, for example, almost wholly vanished within decades of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas. It is because of this horrific legacy that many around the United States have been calling and fighting for Columbus Day to become Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And in some parts of the country, the switch has already happened!

Since Columbus first arrived in the Bahamas in 1492, the indigenous peoples in the Americas have been (generally) horrifically mistreated by Europeans and European Americans. This is a broad statement but there were so many ways in which Europeans settlers and their descendants have mistreated and killed indigenous people here in the United States and all across the Americas. They, for example, brought diseases that wiped out millions of indigenous peoples and there were numerous occasions where physical and cultural genocide were enacted against indigenous peoples and tribes.

Countless indigenous children disappeared at US Indian Boarding Schools, a system that had been set up in part to assimilate indigenous youth into “mainstream” (read: white) society. These schools operated in the late 19th and early 20th century but their effects were felt for generations and still felt today. The US is just now beginning to address the horrors of these schools. The remains of three Arapaho children who died at one school in the 1880s, for example, were just recently returned to their tribe and there are thousands of other children who died while at these schools.

There are, sadly, so many other acts of violence that were inflicted on indigenous people. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 and Canada’s Sixties Scoop are just two other examples from history and spiritual theft is still an ongoing issue (looking at you Sephora).

All of this is to say that having a day to honor and learn from history and indigenous peoples still here is the least we as a country can do. Here are some resources to start learning (if you want!):