October 10, 2022 is a federal holiday, but the topic of the celebration differs greatly across the United States.
On the second Monday of October, America celebrates Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples Day, or Native American Day. There is a movement in America toward acknowledging the atrocities Christopher Columbus inflicted on Indigenous peoples, and instead of celebrating Columbus in October, to use that day to honor the resilience and survival of the First Americans. Yet, the federal government continues to recognize Columbus Day as a federal holiday.
The question is this: Is America celebrating the life and accomplishments of Christopher Columbus on October 10? Or is America celebrating his “discovery” of America? Both precepts are flawed.
Christopher Columbus was a 15th century navigator who massacred Native peoples in now called Haiti and the Dominican Republic, participated in the transatlantic slave trade, cut off Native peoples’ noses and ears for minor offenses to terrorize and dominate for control, and ordered for their dismembered bodies to be paraded in public. American is celebrating a colonizer and a murderer on the second Monday in October.
If we are not celebrating the man but are instead celebrating the discovery of America on Columbus Day, we should be honoring the Native Americans who had already inhabited America for thousands of years by the time Columbus sailed the ocean blue. Columbus did not even step foot on American soil. He landed on Guanahaní, a Bahamian island, and did not reach North America.
The celebration of Christopher Columbus Day reflects and perpetuates the historical genocide of Indigenous peoples. Indigenous people have survived through relocation, termination, extermination, and forced dependence, some of which occurred at the direction of the venerated Columbus under the guise of law purported by the Doctrine of Discovery by the Catholic Church. We are now at a turning point in history where each year more states and localities are choosing to honor the First Americans on the second Monday in October.
Let’s look at the history of Indigenous Peoples Day.
In 1977, a United Nations conference was held in Geneva to address discrimination against Native people. It was the first UN conference with Indigenous delegates and the first time that Native peoples were allowed to speak on behalf of themselves at the UN. This is where the idea for an Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed. A draft declaration was produced at the conference to “observe October 12, the day of so-called ‘discovery’ of America, as an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas.”5
In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to replace Columbus Day with Native American Day. The year prior, the South Dakota legislature unanimously passed legislation to proclaim 1990 as a “Year of Reconciliation” between Native Americans and whites, to change Columbus Day to Native American Day, and to make Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday a state holiday. Founder of Indian Country Today Tim Giago, Oglala Lakota, said South Dakota accomplished these changes through discussions and writing, with the 100-year anniversary of Wounded Knee as a catalyst. In 1890 at Wounded Knee on the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation in South Dakota, at least 250 Lakota who were not engaged in combat, including many women and children, were slaughtered at the hands of U.S. soldiers.
The movement towards fuller adoption of Indigenous Peoples Day continued at The First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance (since the arrival of Columbus) held in 1990 in Ecuador. During the Conference, Indigenous spiritual elders suggested, and the conference unanimously passed, a resolution to change Columbus Day 1992 “into an occasion to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation.” Their hope in transforming Columbus Day was to “reveal the historical truths about the [European] invasion and the consequent genocide and environmental destruction, to organize against its continuation today, and to celebrate Indigenous resistance.”6 Berkeley, California was the first city to ditch Columbus Day for an Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992, also doing so in protest of the 500th anniversary of the arrival of Columbus in the Americas.
In America today, 10 states and more than 130 localities officially recognize an Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day: Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont. Eleven states and Washington, D.C., celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day through proclamations. Colorado no longer celebrates Columbus Day and as of 2020 the state now honors Italian-American immigrant Frances Xavier Cabrini in October. In 2021 President Biden was the first U.S. President in history to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day through a proclamation.
There is much to celebrate about Native Americans.
From a social perspective, the Indigenous culture is now especially of interest in American culture. The FX television series Reservation Dogs is an example of a big step forward in Native representation on camera and Native media production. Indigenous culture is also of increased interest now because the world is experiencing the consequences of environmental destruction and climate change. Inherent in Indigenous cultures are the values of caring for and protecting Mother Earth. Organizations like the Standing Rock (“SAGE”) Renewable Energy Power Authority provide renewable and sustainable energy resources in balance with Natural Law. SAGE prioritizes people over profit, in stark and deliberate contrast with the legacy of Christopher Columbus.
One way to rectify past atrocities is to get Indigenous lands back into Indigenous hands. Land management is one recent example of how Land Back has worked in a successful and non-threatening way. In 2020, Congress passed a law transitioning management of 18,000 acres of undeveloped land in Montana back to the Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes. U.S. Interior Secretary Deb Haaland, Pueblo of Laguna, recognized Native peoples’ resilience, knowledge of conservation, and the Biden administration’s commitment to honoring treaty obligations while visiting Salish Kootenai College in celebration of the law’s passage. Under Haaland’s leadership, the U.S. is also actively reviewing and replacing derogatory Indigenous names (such as “squaw”) on the nation’s geographic features.
Whether or not your state recognizes Indigenous Peoples Day on October 10, 2022, you can reflect on and celebrate Indigenous history. Learn about the diversity of the tribes in your area, support Native-owned businesses like the Standing Rock “SAGE” Renewable Energy Power Authority, or read a book or article from an Indigenous writer. In these ways, you too can be part of the movement toward a federally recognized Indigenous Peoples Day.
 Indian Country Today (2013). Mutilation and other carnage: War crimes committed by Columbus. https://indiancountrytoday.com/archive/mutilation-and-other-carnage-war-crimes-committed-by-columbus
 Contreras, Russell (2019). AP Explains: Columbus, once immigrant hero, now heel to some. AP News. https://apnews.com/article/20a2a775f59340a29391cb4b446f940a
 Johnson (G). (2021). Indigenous views of Christopher Columbus. Penn Today. https://penntoday.upenn.edu/news/indigenous-views-christopher-columbus
 Strauss, V. (2013). Christopher Columbus: 3 things you think he did that he didn’t. The Washington Post. https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/answer-sheet/wp/2013/10/14/christopher-columbus-3-things-you-think-he-did-that-he-didnt/
 Curl, J. Archives of Indigenous Peoples Day: Part 1 The Geneva Conference, 1977. IPD Powwow. https://ipdpowwow.org/Archives_1.html#:~:text=The%20International%20NGO%20Conference%20on,peoples%20into%20international%20affairs%2C%20the
 Wishart, D. (2011). Wounded Knee Massacre. Encyclopedia of the Great Plains. http://plainshumanities.unl.edu/encyclopedia/doc/egp.war.056
 Camhi, T. (2017). How Berkeley dumped Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples Day. Berkeleyside. https://www.berkeleyside.org/2017/10/09/berkeley-became-1st-city-dump-columbus-day-indigenous-peoples-day
 Andrew, S. & Willingham, A.J. (2020). These states are ditching Columbus Day to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. CNN. https://www.cnn.com/2020/10/12/us/indigenous-peoples-day-2020-states-trnd/index.html
 Townsend, L. The first Monday of October in Colorado is Frances Xavier Cabrini Day. Colorado Public Radio. https://www.cpr.org/2020/10/03/monday-is-colorados-1st-mother-cabrini-day-heres-why-the-state-chose-her-to-replace-columbus-day/
 Monares, F. (2022). Native tribes celebrate Montana land ownership and bison range restoration. National Public Radio. https://www.npr.org/2022/05/25/1100823011/native-tribes-celebrate-montana-land-ownership-and-bison-range-restoration