Indigenous Peoples Day Preserves the Memory of the Original Native Americans

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On August 30th, following a trend of multiple cities and universities ceasing official recognition of Columbus Day, both the City of Los Angeles and Los Angeles County declared the second Monday of every October to be Indigenous People’s Day.

Lost at sea on October 12th, 1492, Christopher Columbus discovered the native Taino on the island of Hispaniola as he searched for passage to Asia. Columbus would soon decimate and enslave the population of the Taino people along the Caribbean. On Hispaniola, now present-day Haiti and Dominican Republic, the fall of the native population from disease and European brutality would eventually lead to the replacement of natives with black slaves, commencing the Trans-Atlantic slave trade.

Native Americans from Alaska to Argentina to California to the Caribbean detest the celebration of Columbus Day. Indigenous Peoples Day is a celebration of the multiple Native American groups affected by European conquerors such as Columbus. The celebration in no way makes up for the hundreds of years of injustices faced by natives; it in no way changes the status of indigenous people. The celebration is simply the disavowing of a man who wiped out the Taino by the hundreds of thousands and a man who in no way actually contributed to the founding principles of liberty and equality which are perpetuated in the founding documents of the United States.

The impact of Christopher Columbus and his abuse of the native population warrant the title of Conqueror. Hernán Cortés, Spanish conquistador and the explorer who “discovered” México, committed the same acts Columbus did, albeit on a different scale. Why is it, then, that Columbus was dubbed solely an explorer?

After a period of mass Italian immigration to the United States in the late 1920s, Italians faced intense discrimination around the country. Many Italian-Americans, in an effort to highlight Italian contribution to America, championed Christopher Columbus, born Cristoforo Colombo in the Republic of Genoa in 1451. Lobbying by various Italian-based groups eventually led to the establishment of Christopher Columbus Day. For many, the day then became a celebration for Italian culture. Columbus became the icon Italians needed, so the term of conqueror may not have sounded correct.

Christopher Columbus never set foot in the United States, therefore giving no reason for celebration of his feats in this country. The renaming of the day, however, should not be interpreted as an erasure of Italian culture. Christopher Columbus only harms the image of Italian contribution to America. Similar to any immigrant group, Italian-Americans who actually contributed to America were hard-working, coming to the United States to search for better lives and futures for their children. Columbus only destroyed and enslaved, accomplishing nothing on the way aside from the genocide of millions of natives.

Most significantly, Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates the conquered and diminishes the reverence for the conqueror. Native Americans today still get their land taken from them, are still jammed into reservations, are still discriminated by governments and clergy, and still have the highest suicide rate among any other racial group in America. A victory for the celebration of indigenous peoples is a step forward, and although a mere day is not what is need most, it is a place to start for the recognition of the first Americans.

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