“Columbus sailed the ocean blue in …”
If you said 1492, chances are you learned the story of Christopher Columbus, painted in a heroic tone. Every year, on the second Monday in October, many celebrate the discovery of America by the colonial-era explorer as a federal holiday. Many others, however, will remember the horrendous atrocities and exploitation of indigenous groups during the Columbian Exchange.
Columbus’ checkered past has surfaced more in recent years, but his disruptive legacy has not been forgotten by the various descendent indigenous groups almost five centuries later. In fact, at least four states have chosen to not observe Columbus Day entirely, with many other cities adopting an indigenous people remembrance day instead. Even in contemporary America, Native communities continue to face nouveau threats, including the repercussions of nuclear testing, mining, and fallout which present harmful consequences to indigenous lands.
Last year the UN issued a report on how indigenous communities are disproportionately affected by nuclear technology. These findings show us a disregard and erasure of indigenous people. The testing is done away from any people, do indigenous people not count?
Cynically, one could say it is not surprising then that across America on the second Monday in October, many celebrate a man responsible for the genocide of thousands of Native peoples, Christopher Columbus.
Why is it important to flip the narrative of Columbus Day to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day?
Indigenous Peoples’ Day seeks to elevate the equality and observation for all indigenous groups world-wide. In the United States, Native Americans are the nation’s original inhabitants and remain the oldest marginalized segment of American society.
- Ethnocentricity, focusing on the colonizer’s story such as the case with Columbus Day, creates a single narrative, meanwhile ignoring the struggle faced by marginalized communities. In order to repair the cultural washing of America’s Native American population, it is important to recognize the role each plays in how we talk about indigenous communities in the future.
- Privilege, when used for anything less than allyship, further perpetuates the oppression of indigenous groups. It is important to self-identify privilege and utilize it in a way that advances progress and equality for all people. By using our privilege to celebrate indigenous people rather than Columbus, we can help educate our networks about the legacy of the indigenous people, lifting up a narrative that has too long been silenced.
- The history of attacks on indigenous communities is an attack on all of us. All of us are affected by the legacy of violence that America was built on and which continues to commemorate Columbus’ honor. To this day, indigenous groups are at the receiving end of various attacks on land, environment, and human rights as was evident at Standing Rock in 2016. We must work instead to bring about peace and stability to our communities and demand progress when injustice blooms. This begins with not celebrating the colonizer, but lifting up and remembering his victims.
Instead of celebrating Columbus, we ask you to celebrate the people who came before him, the indigenous people all over the world. And after Monday? Let’s continue celebrating the lives of indigenous people by ending the nuclear weapons and nuclear testing that is destroying their land and endangering their lives.