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On August 3rd, 1492 Italian explorer Christopher Columbus set sail from Palos de la Frontera, Spain, to seek out a western sea route to China and India. However, the explorer and his crew never made it to the gold and spice islands of Asia. Instead, about two months later, on October 12th, they landed on a small island in the modern-day Bahamas that Columbus claimed for Spain and named San Salvador.
The arrival of the explorer credited for 'discovering' the Americas has since been celebrated with religious ceremonies and parades in many U.S. States. In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared October 12th a Federal holiday and Christopher Columbus Day became a fixture on the American calendar. In 1971, to enable residents to enjoy a long weekend, the holiday was moved to the second Monday of October.
However, the holiday has always been mired in controversy. That's because many Americans argue that Christopher Columbus did not 'discover' America. The Native Americans already lived here. Then there is also the issue that his mission was not a scientific 'voyage of discovery', but one geared to conquer and colonize the lands he discovered. Critics argue that the Spanish army brought by the explorer on his second voyage was responsible for the deaths of hundreds of thousands of indigenous Americans. Those that survived were enslaved and forced to work in mines and plantations. They, therefore, believe that his arrival should not be celebrated.
Alaska, Hawaii, and South Dakota have never recognized Columbus Day. In Hawaii, it is celebrated as 'Discoverers' Day' to commemorate the Polynesian discoverers of the Island. In South Dakota, it is celebrated as 'Native American Day.'
Over the years, the holiday's popularity has declined in other states as well. According to the experts at the Pew Research Center, Columbus Day is "one of the most inconsistently celebrated U.S. holidays."
While non-essential Federal workers still take the day off, only 23 states have it on their list of approved holidays. Numerous school districts have also opted out. For businesses, it has always been work as usual. But regardless of whether it is celebrated, it is still recognized as 'Columbus Day.'
In 1977, a delegation of Native nations at the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, proposed renaming the holiday to 'Indigenous Peoples Day.' The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority.
The city of Berkeley in California became the first in the country to adopt the name change in 1992. The day that is celebrated at the city's Civic Center Park has become an important annual event. It enables the local population to interact with and learn about the Native culture and the Bay Area Indian community.
In 2014, following some rigorous lobbying from residents, the city councils of Minneapolis and Seattle also voted to change the name to 'Indigenous People's Day.' In 2015, eight more cities have joined this trend. This Monday the residents of Albuquerque, Lawrence, Portland, St.Paul, Bexar County, Anadarko, Olympia, and Alpena will celebrate the day with Native American festivals.
However, not everyone is happy at this turn of events. For many Italian-Americans, Columbus Day is the focal point of Italian Heritage month that is celebrated throughout October. But people like Cliff Matias that support the change, argue that it is not so much an "anti-Columbus Day but a celebration of indigenous peoples’ culture.”
The quest to rename Columbus Day is not limited to the United States. In Mexico, El Salvador and Argentina, it is called 'Dia de la Raza,' a day when indigenous people come together as a community and celebrate their heritage. In Venezuela, the holiday has been renamed the 'Day of the Indigenous Resistance'.
Whether 'Indigenous People's Day' ever gets Federal recognition in North America remains to be seen. But as the momentum to rename Columbus Day gains ground, the significance of this already controversial holiday can only continue to diminish.
Resources: cnn.com, rt.com,npr.com