Indigenous Peoples Day or Columbus Day: Which Name is Better?


Tyler Moore

A statue in Pottawatomie Park that represents non specific members of the Potawatomi tribe. The statue was named “Ēkwabet” by the Potawatomi people.

Melanie Jandura, News Editor

Ever since I was in elementary school, my peers and I were all simply taught that Christopher Columbus had discovered the Americas long ago. His expedition was one to be celebrated because he was the reason that we lived where we did. We’d enjoy the three-day weekend that came every October, giving us a Monday off school to finally relax. I didn’t think much about the underlying messages of it all until years later.

Decades ago, Columbus Day became a national holiday in the United States in order to honor the voyage made by Christopher Columbus coming from Spain to discover America. It comes the second Monday of every October. However, he never should have been awarded this recognition. 

Christopher Columbus originally landed in the Bahamas during 1492 thinking he was in the East Indies of Asia, not a whole new continent. Yup, he ended up there by mistake because he was actually just trying to find a new route to get to India, China, Japan and the Maluku Islands. I never found out about how he didn’t purposefully seek out land that was unknown to Europe until seventh grade social studies which was after years of being in school.

1492 was very long ago, but Columbus was definitely far from the first person to step foot in North or South America unlike what I was told as a kid. Scientific theories, old tools and other evidence of human life show that Native Americans had been living within the Americas for thousands of years before he’d arrived. When he reached North America, there were already generations of people that had been born and raised there.

However, some may say Columbus not being the first person to find the Americas is besides the point. Even though he wasn’t the first person to land in America, he was the first European to, right?

Actually, this isn’t true, either. A group of Vikings led by Leif Eriksson had settled in Newfoundland around 500 years before Columbus set sail, and there are even alternative theories of Europeans before them, though not currently containing as much evidence as the vikings.

So Columbus may not have been the first person or even European to discover America, but he was still a huge influence on colonization brought by mostly France, Britain and Spain. My question, though, is why would we celebrate him for the theft of the native’s land?

Columbus was personally responsible for committing many atrocities upon the indigenous people including spreading of disease, mass murder, rape, forced conversion to Christianity and slavery. He played a big role in starting the genocide and slaughter of Native Americans who are still feeling the heavy consequences today.

As a white person, I have never and will never truly feel the pain caused by this genocide. I can only imagine the hardship, especially with lasting impacts that are still felt. Indigenous Americans today still are suffering from cultural erasure and appropriation, the loss of their land, the aftermath of residential schools, the many indigenous women going missing and much more centuries after the arrival of Columbus and what he did.

Pre-Columbus, Native American communities were very self-sustaining and resourceful. After hunting, the entire animal would be used not only for food but also clothes, weapons, tools and even the making of homes and artwork. Nature was of high importance within the belief systems, so animals were greatly respected as a result. Along with this, the growing of corn was actually one of the early instances of genetic modification in society and unique water systems were made to irrigate crops. However, a lot of this progress and culture sadly ended up disrespected and forgotten because of colonization brought by Columbus.

Instead of annually celebrating a horrible person like Christopher Columbus, we could instead just rename the national holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day” like so many people are advocating for. In fact, several states and cities in the United States have already taken action to do this. D303 currently has it listed as both on its calendars. However, I believe it should just be fully changed if possible. Renaming the holiday would only be a small step in the right direction for Indigenous people but a step nonetheless.

Besides, why would we want to honor a monster instead of the people who were directly harmed by his actions and are fighting to reclaim their culture back?