America has a tendency to celebrate and uplift those who may deserve it by way of holidays, media and our history books. Christopher Columbus is one of those people, as America has dedicated a national holiday to the infamous historical figure.
Columbus is a significant person in American history for controversial reasons. The Italian-born explorer is often credited as the discoverer of the Americas, although the Vikings had already been there. His treatment of the natives, who were already settled in the Americas, is where he receives his criticism, and rightfully so, because reports indicate that Columbus abused and enslaved native people.
So why does the United States still celebrate Columbus Day? And what about the Native Americans who were victims of his tyranny?
Indigenous People’s Day is an alternative to Columbus Day. It is a chance to celebrate Native Americans, a group of people who have been underrepresented in this country for centuries.
Cities such as Portland, Ore., Seattle and Albuquerque, N.M., are among some of the cities that choose to recognize Indigenous People’s Day. The entire state of Washington no longer observes Columbus Day.
Charlie Perry, a graduate of the Haskell Indian Nations University, participated in a march to change the Columbus holiday to Indigenous People’s Day in his city of Lawrence, Kan. “It means a lot for the Native American community to be recognized,” said Perry, who is a member of the tribe Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation. “Our very existence is a slap in the face to those who tried to make us go extinct.”
In New York City, one of the most progressive and diverse cities in the world, Columbus Day is still celebrated. New York has an extensive and rich Native American history, as the area was bustling with various tribes, including Lenape, Canarsie, Rockaway and many others.
Native American activists are determined to get NYC on board with other cities across the nation and discontinue Columbus Day.
Cliff Matias is a member of the Redhawk Native American Arts Council and one of the organizers of the Indigenous People’s Celebration, a festival that aims to re-think Columbus Day and shed light on Native American culture. The Indigenous People’s Celebration will be held Oct. 10 at Wards Meadow Field, Randall’s Island, New York City. The event starts at 7 a.m. and will feature musical performances, guest speakers and spoken word centered on Native American culture. “If you don’t know about Native American Culture, you don’t know about America,” said Matias. “Native America culture is the backbone of America—there are so many things that Europeans have learned from us. We do this to celebrate our existence and honor our culture.”