The myth of colonization doesn’t need a holiday.
CREDIT: Cut- Youtube
Last year, President Biden formally proclaimed the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It was considered a sign of progress in the ongoing fight for their rights and recognition. Indigenous culture and history were to be observed and respected on a national level; and on the same day that celebrates Christopher Columbus, the overglorified figurehead of colonialism.
Would you have known about it if not for the controversy caused by its overlap with Columbus Day? Maybe, but this was done to send a clear message: Indigenous people are tired of letting the perpetrators control the narrative. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a direct response to America’s romanticization of violence against native people.
The idea to change the holiday to was first proposed at a United Nations conference in 1977. It took over a decade of advocacy to see action; South Dakota became the first state to replace Columbus Day with the new and improved title in 1989. Biden’s recognition was the first time a president had officially acknowledged it.
During the uproar of Roe v. Wade’s overturning controversy, the Supreme Court made another decision that threatened the rights of a marginalized group. Previously, a court case had protected Native tribes from state interference – U.S. v. Kagama. It overturned the right of Native lands to have sovereignty and self-governance, with Justice Brett Kavanaugh calling tribal land “Indian country.” In November, the Indian Child Welfare Act, a federal law that protects Indigenous children from being taken away from their families and placed with non-Native families, will be reconsidered by the Supreme Court. The law was created in 1978 after an overwhelming number of Indigenous children were being fostered or adopted by non-Native, mainly white families. According to the ACLU, it was “an attempt to force Native children to assimilate and adopt white cultural norms. Before ICWA, public and private agencies were removing 25 to 35 percent of Native American/Alaska Native children from their homes, and 85 percent of those children were placed in non-Native households.”
The holiday has been met with plenty of criticism from conservatives – Fox News even created an entire miniseries called “Uncancelling Columbus,'' blaming a “far-left move to dismantle Christopher Columbus' legacy.” Since you probably don’t want to waste your time watching it, the intent is to suggest that Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the reframing of how we view Columbus as a radical attack on truth. When your reaction to the one day of the year dedicated to native people’s history is self-victimizing, it's very telling.
American Columbus Day parades are mainly a celebration of Italian heritage. And while there’s nothing wrong with wanting to celebrate your roots, the need to associate this day with Columbus is where the problem lies. Ironically, Columbus Day was considered a progressive step for Italian immigrants when it first began in the 1900s. But that was a time when Italians were seen as ‘other’ in America, which they no longer are. As racial dynamics change, so do the groups of people who deserve holidays dedicated to them. White Americans do not feel the lasting negative impact of colonization – Indigenous people do.
Yes, Columbus did not colonize North America. Yes, he never had any contact with the people native to the present-day United States. Some of the presidents on our dollar bills had more to do with the eugenics and genocide of North American native people than he ever did — e.g. Andrew Jackson. Yet somewhere down the line, he became the representative of European colonization. The word ‘colonize’ is literally derived from the Spanish form of his name - Cristoforo Colon.
The co-opting of this holiday is purposefully on Columbus Day to force people to reflect on how long history has been whitewashed and how normalized the invalidation of Native people is. Indigenous people’s human rights have been at risk for centuries, yet it's still so common for people who are otherwise socially and politically aware to be apathetic. It's a step toward the long overdue recognition of the damage this country has inflicted and continues to inflict upon Indigenous people. A single day dedicated to Indigenous history and culture may not seem like a big deal. Still, it's a necessary reminder that they will not be erased from history while colonialism is celebrated.
Emilia Cardenas-Perez is an online and print writer for Rowdy Magazine. She enjoys fruit bowls, mafia movies, online shopping and ranting about her thoughts on niche subjects. You can reach her on Instagram @emiliaaandreaa or by email firstname.lastname@example.org.