The ever-controversial Columbus Day is being celebrated this week in the United States but, in many communities across Turtle Island, the holiday is being reclaimed as Indigenous Peoples Day—a day of solidarity with Indigenous People.
RPM brings you some Native perspective on the history and context of this highly contested holiday.
Everyone knows the story of Christopher Columbus, a Spanish explorer looking for a passage to Asia for the trade of goods in the late 1400’s. With his three ships, the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria, Columbus set sail and ‘discovered’ America, where he found what he called “Indians”, thinking he found India. The celebration of Thanksgiving and Columbus Day in America is now a widely spread and commercial holiday—intended to praise Columbus’ “discovery” of the so-called “New World”.
Indigenous nations across Turtle Island, however, have always disputed the holiday’s oppressive nature, which seeks to valorize and praise the holocaust that began with Columbus’ opening of the Americas to European colonization—and which has led to the dispossession of Indigenous lands, the annihilation of millions of Indigenous Peoples, and the destruction of native cultures and lifeways.
But the holiday is now being reclaimed—and transformed—into a celebration of Indigenous People’s Day, where nations, groups and movements have formed across North and South America to change and officially declare October 12th as a national holiday and day of solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.
As North American Indigenous Student Organization (NAISO) co-chair, Ryan Patrick stated recently:
“To the larger American community, (Columbus Day) is a day off work or school for the man who discovered America,” Patrick said. “We see the celebration of a man who brought with him genocide, rape, slavery, and set the foundation for the mistreatment of people of color for generations.”
The History of Indigenous People’s Day
The city of Berkeley, in the Bay Area of California, replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in 1992. Since then, the event has become an annual affair that includes a Powwow and an Indian Fair. The idea to replace Columbus Day was conceived in 1977 when the United Nations passed a resolution at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, held in Geneva, Switzerland. In 1990, 120 delegates from Indigenous nations around Turtle Island met at the First Continental Conference in Quito, Ecuador to discuss 500 years of Indigenous resistance to colonization.
A representative for the mayor of Berkeley also attended the conference to gather information on how to celebrate the Quicentenary, a celebration of Columbus’ exploits with replica ships of his voyage and a jubilee celebration in the Bay Area, which was chosen by the U.S. Congress as the location for this celebration. This event was eventually cancelled.
After requests and submissions of information by the Berkeley “Resistance 500” Task Force to the city council of Berkeley, the council found the evidence of Columbus’ discoveries not to be a scientific voyage, but an excursion of imperial colonization.
On October 12th, 1992, the council voted unanimously to declare that Columbus should no longer be celebrated and that the day should instead celebrate the survival and revitalization of Indigenous cultures, and commemorate Native resistance to the forces still threatening to destroy them.
Indigenous Peoples and the ‘Occupy Together’ Movement
In 2011, as public protests and demonstrations have swept across the continent following the Occupy Wall Street public protest movement begun in New York City in September, Indigenous Peoples have begun not only to reclaim Columbus Day as an Indigenous holiday, but also to reclaim Representation of Native Presence in the Occupy Wall Street Narrative.
The American Indian Movement of Colorado recently joined the Occupy Together Movement by issuing An Indigenous Platform Proposal for Occupy Denver that challenged the Occupy Together movement “to integrate into its philosophy, a set of values that respects the rights of indigenous peoples, and that recognizes the importance of employing indigenous visions and models in restoring environmental, social, cultural, economic and political health to our homeland”.
The proposal articulates the need to bring a renewed commitment to justice for Indigenous Peoples as part of a broader movement for justice and equality in the United States:
“As indigenous peoples, we welcome the awakening of those who are relatively new to our homeland. We are thankful, and rejoice, for the emergence of a movement that is mindful of its place in the environment, that seeks economic and social justice, that strives for an end to oppression in all its forms, that demands an adequate standard of food, employment, shelter and health care for all, and that calls for envisioning a new, respectful and honorable society. We have been waiting for 519 years for such a movement, ever since that fateful day in October 1492 when a different worldview arrived — one of greed, hierarchy, destruction and genocide.”
The AIM proposal was unanimously adopted by Occupy Denver on October 10, 2011.
For more on Indigenous People’s Day and the ongoing controversy over Columbus Day, please check out the links below:
Indigenous Peoples Day
The History of Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples Day [UC Berkeley]
Indigenous People’s Day [wiki]
Indigenous Groups at Occupy Wall Street Mark Columbus Day as Day of Mourning [DemocracyNow]
Indigenous Peoples Day: Replacing Columbus Day [Indigenous Issues Today]
Indigenous Peoples Day Set for Bascom [The Badger Herald]
Indigenizing Occupy Wall Street [Tehran Times]
Columbus Day Controversy
Columbus Day Protest Widens [Indian Country Today]
Columbus Day Remains at Sea [Philadelphia Inquirer]
Shame of Columbus Day [The Salt Lake Tribune]
To Celebrate Or Not To Celebrate Columbus Day, That Is The Question [LAist]
Columbus Day Vs. Indigenous Peoples’ Day: How About Happy Immigration Day? [Mediate]
Two Different Celebrations Mark Columbus Day [Columbia Spectator]
Anti-Columbus Day [Facebook Group]
North American Indigenous Student Organization protests Columbus Day [The State News]
Happy Indigenous People’s Day! [MSNBC]
Anti-Columbus Week Challenges ‘Hero’ [The Sophian]
Abolish Columbus Day! [AIAN]
Transform Columbus Day Alliance
This is a video from the “Reconsider Columbus Day” campaign:
Also here we have an excerpt from the documentary The Canary Effect, directed by the lead singer from the band The Bastard Fairies, Yellow Thunder Woman, that speaks to the issue of the true history of Columbus and his American exploits:
Anti-Columbus Day [Seattle, WA]
Does your community have an Anti-Columbus or Indigenous People’s Day celebration? Let us know by commenting below.
Check out more fantastic photos by the talented Alyssa Macy (aka The Indigenous Flygirl) on Facebook: “Day of Solidarity With Indigenous People at Occupy Wall Street NY”