The history behind Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day

10 October, 2017, 00:36 | Author: Malcolm Fuller
  • A statue of Christopher Columbus at Palos de la Frontera in Huelva

Columbus Day in recent years has sparked a discussion on whether the holiday should even be called that anymore.

Such re-evaluations don't change history, but they do change how we remember it. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a federal holiday after intense lobbying by a Catholic service organization consisting largely of Italian Americans, the Los Angeles Times reported. But he also acknowledged the uglier side of Columbus' voyages. For much of America's history, Italian immigrants have not been considered "white", nor do they identify as "white".

Instead of commemorating Columbus, Los Angeles County recently replaced the holiday with Indigenous People's Day, and several cities in the USA have also chose to celebrate the culture of Native Americans instead of the controversial federal holiday.

So what did Columbus really do?

States like Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont do not recognize Columbus Day at all; however, Hawaii and South Dakota mark the day with an alternative holiday.

And he wasn't the first European in the New World, either. If not, then both Christopher Columbus and the Native Americans would fall short of our present measures.

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The indigenous societies of the Americas "were decimated by exposure to Old World diseases, crumbling under the weight of epidemic", historian David M. Perry wrote. Sixteen percent disagreed. Fifty-six percent view Columbus either "favorably" or "very favorably"; half as many, or 28 percent, take a negative view of the navigator. "The past we share is marked by too many broken promises, as well as violence, deprivation, and disease". "I believe in the contribution Italian-Americans have made, just as I believe in celebrating the Caribbean and the Israel day parade".

On a municipal level, celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day is a shift adopted in some parts of the country. "I also direct that the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of our diverse history and all who have contributed to shaping this Nation".

Patrick Korten, a member of the board of directors at the National Christopher Columbus Association (NCCA), told PJ Media Columbus' arrival in the Americas was "the single most consequential act in human history".

The mayor will march in the Columbus Day Parade along Fifth Avenue, while the commission he set up to review statues will hold its first meeting later this week.

One option is adding statues, said Alfred Brophy, a law professor at the University of Alabama who studies historical memory.

"Columbus is so ambivalent because he's so far back in time", said Lane.

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