We Should Replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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If you’ve ever watched the popular late-night show host John Oliver on his program “Last Week Tonight,” you have stumbled across the series “How is this still a thing?” where he discusses irrational events that still exist but have no reason to. Today is one of those days: Columbus Day.

No one is complaining about a Monday off from school and work, but for a holiday described as “the most useless holiday on the federal calendar,” it simply serves to confuse people since only about half of American states observe the holiday and few schools and offices within those states participate. A random day off during the fall season is wonderful, so it might make just a tad more sense to dedicate a day to something substantial, such Indigenous Peoples’ Day, rather than the historical nightmare that Columbus represents.

I remember learning in elementary school that Columbus founded America, bravely claiming land for the Spanish monarchy, and now here we are today living in the United States. Except, there’s a lot more to it than that.

Christopher Columbus gained financial support from the Spanish monarchy to discover a shorter route to India, and landed in the Bahamas in 1492, never setting foot in North America. He and his troops enslaved the native Taíno peoples, forcing children to work in gold mines, cutting off their limbs if they failed to meet their quotas.

Even his contemporaries recognized that through disease, enslavement, and warfare he decimated about half of the population of Caribbean islands, setting precedence for the cruelty that colonizers would later exhibited to indigenous peoples. Despite these facts, many people wish to preserve Columbus Day for various reasons, sparking debate over the holiday.

Advocates of Columbus Day claim that Columbus’ discovery of the North American continent is worth celebrating, yet Norse explorers had reached Canada about 500 years before and “discovery” isn’t quite the right word to use for land that was already inhabited.

Additionally, the holiday was originally instituted when Italian immigrants were being discriminated against in the late 19th century, thus the Columbus Day myth of discovery was used to help them assimilate, so many people point to the holiday as a day of celebrating Italian heritage. And even still, there are so many famous Italian Americans who didn’t commit genocide that could be better celebrants. Amerigo Vespucci, the man who actually discovered the mainland United States (and our country’s namesake) would be a great choice. Or even  Leonardo di Caprio!

Whatever the reason for the defense of Columbus Day, there is no way to defend his actions and the overarching horror of colonization that he stands for, thus the holiday should be scrapped or replaced.

It is clear that Columbus Day is a rather pointless and revolting celebration, but the holiday itself can be reclaimed as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Started in 1991, Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a day of solidarity with and education about the plights of indigenous peoples who suffered during the colonization of the Americas.

Over two dozen cities including Austin, Texas. and Los Angeles, Calif., have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and more seem posed to join them. Considering the violent history behind the holiday, it seems fitting to instead honor those who were and are oppressed by colonization and discrimination, to recognize the violent foundation on which the Americas came to be and work to uplift those affected.