Indigenous People’s Day has grown in popularity as a replacement for Columbus Day but according to historians Columbus Day has been celebrated since the early 18th century.

Indigenous People’s Day, known also as Native American Day, commemorates the Native American people, history and culture.   

Looking Back…The Adoption of Columbus Day

Americans throughout history have been taught Christopher Columbus discovered the new world in 1492.  He was hailed as the brave and noble explorer who set out on a voyage to chart the western sea route to China, India and Islands of Asia.  Instead, Columbus discovered lands, known today as America, unknown to exist by educated Europeans. Additional history about Christopher Columbus and his voyage can be found in my previous post, “History of Columbus Day” by Tonya Steele at

It would be three hundred years after 1492 before Columbus Day would be celebrated. The first celebration took place in New York in 1792.  The Columbian Order known also as the Tammany Hall event, held a 300-year anniversary to celebrate the discovery of the new lands.

A 100-years later, in 1892, a proclamation was issued by President Benjamin Harrison, encouraging Americans to honor the voyages of Columbus with festivities and parades to celebrate the 400-year anniversary.

In Harrison’s proclamation it stated, “On that day let the people, so far as possible, cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life.” 

Nearly 80-years later, in 1971, a Catholic Fraternal Benefits Organization, known as the Knights of Columbus, convinced President Franklin D. Roosevelt to proclaim Columbus Day a nationally recognized holiday.  Roosevelt submitted the proclamation declaring the second Monday in October as Columbus Day.

Anti-Immigrant Groups Stand in Opposition of Columbus Day

In the early 19th century anti-immigrant groups began protesting recognition of the holiday on the basis of affiliation with Catholicism, allegations Columbus and his men forced native people in the Bahamas into slavery and for the barbaric torture of the people native to Hispaniola where Columbus was said to serve as governor for a period of time.

Once Europeans started colonizing in America, war began to escalate between the new settlers and the Native Americans already living upon the land. European settlers were blamed for bringing diseases, such as Small Pox and Influenza, and infecting Native Americans, further increasing the number of lives lost.

Native Americans were already inhabiting American lands prior to Christopher Columbus discovering the New World.
Native Americans were already inhabiting American lands prior to Christopher Columbus discovering the New World.

Since the 19th century Native Americans have stood in opposition against the federally recognized holiday, protesting the celebration of a holiday that resulted in an insurmountable number of their ancestors losing their life, land and cultural acceptance by the new settlers.

Several states, cities, communities and schools, in the Untied States have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. South Dakota, for instance, has celebrated Native American Day since 1990 and Hawaii recognizes Discoverer’s Day celebrating the arrival of Polynesian settlers, who they believe colonized Hawaii, not Columbus.

According to a CNN articleQuest to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day sails ahead,” by Marilia Brocchetto and Emanuella Grinberg, published Columbus Day, October 10, 2016, reports a growing number of states, in recent years, opposing Columbus Day, adopting Indigenous People’s Day.  The 2016 Columbus Day holiday was observed by 23 states, allowing state employees a paid holiday.

Historians claim Columbus wasn’t the first to discover the American lands

Historical accounts reference civilians were already inhabiting the lands discovered by Columbus and Vikings were referenced to have discovered the same lands in the 10th century.    Although America had already been discovered, Columbus is still acknowledged as the first European explorer to discover America.

Allegations throughout history have varied on the nobility of Christopher Columbus.  While some recognized Columbus for his brave and noble courage, following the orders of the Spanish Monarchs, other reports view him differently.  There are historical accounts representing Columbus as a man lacking respect for the native people of the discovered lands, a murderer, rapist and overall a wicked man.

Was Columbus a barbaric man, as indicated, or was he a man just following the orders of the Spanish Monarchs?

Increased Number of States opposing Columbus Day

The currently referenced CNN article reported the following have replaced the observance of Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day in the last 12-months:

  1. Phoenix, Arizona
  2. Colorado: Boulder, Denver, Durango
  3. Evanston, Illinois
  4. Cambridge, Massachusetts
  5. Michigan: Ann Arbor, East Lansing
  6. Minnesota: Cook County, Two Harbors
  7. Lincoln, Nebraska
  8. Sante Fe, New Mexico
  9. Eugene, Oregon
  10. Spokane, Washington

Alaska didn’t observe Columbus Day bud joined other states in adopting Indigenous People’s Day in 2015.

The most recent to join in opposing Columbus Day is Vermont, Arizona and Phoenix. Vermont’s Governor Peter Sumlin submitted a proclamation replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, encouraging residents to commemorate the day by recognizing the contributions and sacrifices of the people first on the land.

Recent State proposals failed to adopt Indigenous People’s Day

Oklahoma, home to one of the largest Native American populations, still recognizes Columbus Day. It’s been proposed to adopt Indigenous People’s Day for two years in a row but city leaders continue to reject replacing the holiday.

Cincinnati city leaders proposed replacing Columbus Day, joining states in observing the holiday rapidly gaining recognition but failed to receive approval by one vote.   Out of the nine Cincinnati city council members, five chose to abstain from voting, while four voted to approve.

Communities in states adopting the newer holiday aren’t restricted from holding public ceremonies and festivities in honor of Christopher Columbus. Although permission is granted to facilitate local events, demonstrators in opposition of Columbus Day are intruding on the annual festivities and parades.

As recent as this past Saturday, October 8, 2016, Denver’s celebration was shared with protestors at their annual Columbus Day Parade sponsored by the local Order Sons of Italy, Lodge No. 2075.

Today’s Native Americans are beginning to heal with the acceptance of Indigenous People’s Day.

States choosing to adopt Indigenous People’s Day have done so to give recognition to communities still impacted by Columbus discovering their ancestors native lands.   Furthermore, proponents of the Indigenous People’s Day hope to facilitate connections within communities, sharing and accepting ancestral diversities, thereby providing healing to those still impacted in today’s culture.

Will History Be Rewritten?

Currently over half of the United States has chosen not to observe Columbus Day. The stories of the infamous explorer, the brave and noble Christopher Columbus, could be viewed differently in history classes of future generations.   Teachers teaching children to revere Columbus and chant, “Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492”, may soon be a distant historical memory of school children and teachers from yesteryear.

It’s been said history can’t be changed but with the rapidly increasing number of states adopting to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, indicates changing the views of Columbus’ discovery of the new world in future history classes.

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Tonya Steele