“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” is a near-ubiquitous phrase in the United States. However, this saying highlights a perennial problem: in America we glorify Christopher Columbus, while erasing the history and culture of people who were already thriving here in the Americas before his arrival. Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day is one way that the United States can begin to reckon with its brutal colonial past.
Yesterday, Oct. 12 is federally recognized as Columbus Day, marking the day Columbus landed in the Americas 528 years ago. In fact, Columbus Day did not become a holiday until 1934, but perhaps even more remarkable is the fact that Columbus never set foot in the land that is now called the United States. Columbus is not a man who should be praised for his actions; regardless of the broader consequences of the Old and New World being connected, Columbus himself was a rapist who enslaved Native people and began the mass murder of Indigenous Americans.
Instead of glorifying the beginning of a genocide, many states are changing the day to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead. While it is not yet a federally recognized holiday, every year more states ditch Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day. While learning about Indigenous culture should not be limited to only one day a year, it is certainly a good place to start. Invisibility in the media is one of the biggest obstacles facing Native Americans. Activist Crystal Echo Hawk of the Pawnee Nation of Oklahoma embarked on a research project 2016 called Reclaiming Native Truth that sought to uncover the extent to which Native people are excluded in education and media. The project found that:
“87 percent of history standards don’t mention Native American history after 1900”
“27 states make no mention of a single Native American in K-12 curriculum.”
“Native American characters only make up between 0-0.04% of primetime TV and films.”
This erasure in education and the media has deadly consequences. The episode Invisible Nation of Klepper on Comedy Central cited how police kill Native Americans “at a higher rate than any other group in the country,” and Indigenous youth have the “highest rate of suicide” of any ethnic group. Additionally, “Native American women still have the hightest rates of rape and assault.” This epidemic, known as MMIW, or Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, is one Indigenous women have been facing for decades with little to no media coverage. A study by the University of Delaware and the University of North Carolina found that “Native American women, on some reservations, are killed at a rate 10 times the national average.”
While designating a single day as one to learn about Indigenous culture is not enough to overcome centuries of oppression, it is a step towards better understanding of the often misrepresented history in America and allows for a chance to highlight Indigenous voices. New Mexico Representative Deb Haaland is a Laguna Pueblo citizen who made history in 2018 alongside Sharice Davids as the first Native American women in Congress. In an Instagram video released on Oct. 12, she remarked: “Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a way to honor the people who lived and thrived on this continent before colonization. The celebration of this day is a long time coming. Activists, community organizers, and the Indigenous community worked hard lobbying lawmakers, hosting rallies, and showing our culture proudly wherever we go so that we can finally correct the record and recognize the real history of this country.”
“Yes, it’s a painful history,” Haaland added, “but acknowledging that history can build strength through understanding. … We are still here. Let’s celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day by making sure we’re no longer invisible.”
(Sources: IllumiNative, CNN)