The Columbus Day Debate

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Columbus Day celebrates Christopher Columbus's arrival to the Americas (Credit: Uk.USembassy.gov)

The second Monday in October has traditionally been known as Columbus Day in honor of the Italian explorer's "discovery" of the Americas on October 12, 1492. However, the US federal holiday, which will be celebrated on October 11 this year, has always been controversial due to the European settlers' cruel treatment of the Native American people.

Historians also argue that Christopher Columbus was not the first to find the continent. The indigenous people had been living in the Americas long before his arrival. He was also not the first European to set foot in North America. That honor belongs to a group of Vikings, led by Leif Eriksson, who established a settlement in Greenland in AD 980.

Some US states, including Oregon, Iowa, and Nebraska, have never recognized Columbus Day. Hawaii renamed it "Discoverers' Day" — in honor of the state's Polynesian founders — in 1971, while South Dakota changed it to "Native American Day" in 1990. As public awareness of the controversy increased, many US schools and universities also stopped observing the holiday.

The US states (in green ) that celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day. or Native American Day ,as of 2020 (Credit: Kaldari/CC0/ Wikimedia Commons)

The shift in sentiment was encouraging, but many people were still unhappy about Columbus Day being a federal holiday. In 1977, a delegation of Native nations — attending the International NGO Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas — proposed renaming Columbus Day to "Indigenous Peoples' Day." They believed the change would help honor the victims of American colonization. The resolution passed with an overwhelming majority.

Berkeley, CA, was the first US city to make the change in 1992, and Santa Cruz, CA, followed shortly after in 1994. But the idea really began to gain momentum after 2014. That year, Minneapolis, MN, Grand Rapids, MN, and Seattle, WA, renamed the holiday. Since then, over 100 cities and entire states, including Alaska and Oregon, have adopted Indigenous Peoples' Day.

In 2020, Colorado replaced Columbus Day with Cabrini Day, in honor of Frances Xavier Cabrini. The Italian-American Roman Catholic nun helped establish over 67 schools, hospitals, and orphanages in the United States and South and Central America. The same year, Arizona decided to recognize both Indigenous Peoples' Day and Columbus Day on the second Monday in October.

An Indigenous Peoples' Day celebration in Berkeley, CA (Credit: Quinn Dombrowskii/CC BY-SA 2.0 /Wikimedia Commons)

The movement to alter the name has also gained ground in Latin America. Argentina, Colombia, Chile, Costa Rica, Ecuador, Honduras, Mexico, and Uruguay have all renamed Columbus Day to "Día de la Raza," or "Day of the Race." The holiday celebrates Latin America's mixed indigenous and European heritage and culture. Venezuela and Nicaragua's "Día de la Resistencia Indígena," or "Day of the Indigenous Resistance," honors the indigenous population's past and ongoing struggles.

But not everyone thinks a name change is necessary. For Italian Americans, Columbus Day is the centerpiece of the Italian Heritage Month, celebrated every October. They argue the holiday honors the history of immigration, not the explorer. Therefore, they believe the name should be retained or changed to something more appropriate, like Italian Heritage Day. What do you think? Be sure to let us know by adding your comments below.

Resources: Wikipedia.org, CNN.com, History.com, PBS.org

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115 Comments
  • kiearrag10484
    hi i love the article
    • pupaheso-161365564160
      keep the name
      • pupaheso-161365564160
        • trickyhacker33
          Colombia landed in the Caribbean’s and nearby islands, he didn’t even reach America! GO INDEGENOUS
        • ns174641
          ns1746417 months
          Keep it columbusday
        • knowledgeseeker
          I don't know I am torn after reading all the comments you all have really good points #torn (and yes I did change my answer the other one sounded mean.)
          • knowledgeseeker
            go indigenous peoples day!!😄
            • nick05
              nick057 months
              Columbus did not discover America. Someone else did. So it should be Indigenous People Day. Not Columbus Day. We should celebrate the people who already were in America and the first person who found America. This was Leif Erikson who found America 500 years earlier. Leif Erikson found it with his group of explorers named the Icelandic Explorers. This should be wrong.
              • catwwii
                catwwii7 months
                That's true Leif Erickson doesn't really get any credit, but if it wasn't for Christopher Columbus we wouldn't be here today, in fact the chances of any of us living here (or being alive) are incredibly slim.
                • scissccisd
                  scissccisd7 months
                  The Vikings did not even really discover anything of importance. Columbus's discovery was evolutionarily brave, cunning and daring. We would not be here today if Columbus didn't hurt the Natives and conquered there land. I know he was not in America. But he inspired other countries to come to the New World which is why we would not be alive and the world would be completely different is Columbus didn't discover the New World.
                • lobster_of_joy
                  make it indigenous people day!
                  • eddsworld_4life
                    I think we should change the name to "Indigenous Peoples Day" because Columbus was a bad person that stole someone else's land and home. Plus he wasn't even the first one there it was the Native Americans that were there first. #ChangeTheName!