Americans Celebrate Competing Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day Holidays
Beverly Cantrell - October 11, 2021 4:58 pm
The shared holiday has become a source of controversy. While some advocates say Christopher Columbus should be honored for his discovery of the New World and his Italian heritage, others associate him with the genocide of Native Americans and say Indigenous people deserve to be celebrated instead.
Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1792 and became a federal holiday in 1968. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not a federal holiday, but more than a dozen states and as many as 130 cities have begun to officially recognize it — either in addition to, or in replacement of Columbus Day.
President Joe Biden is the first U.S. president to officially recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day, issuing a proclamation Friday, saying the U.S. “celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.”
Biden also issued a proclamation for Columbus Day, writing that the U.S. acknowledges “the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities,” adding, “let this day be one of reflection — on America’s spirit of exploration, on the courage and contributions of Italian Americans throughout the generations, on the dignity and resilience of Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities, and on the work that remains ahead of us to fulfill the promise of our Nation for all.”
White House press secretary Jen Psaki said Friday she wasn’t aware of any discussion of ending Columbus Day as a federal holiday and said the president recognizes both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“He’s declaring both a holiday,” Psaki said. “Obviously, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is something that he’s honored to be the first president to be issuing a proclamation on and celebrating.”
As a presidential candidate last year, Biden announced he was celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus day, saying, “Our nation has never lived up to our full promise of equality for all — especially not when it comes to the rights of the indigenous people who were here long before ships arrived from Europe.”
The holiday controversy came to a head in Pennsylvania over the weekend, where a judge ruled that a Christopher Columbus statue in Philadelphia must remain in a box during the city’s Columbus Day parade. The statue was boxed up last year in the wake of civil unrest surrounding the murder of George Floyd at the hands of former police officer Derek Chauvin. Several violent clashes took place at the site where the statue is located.
The proposal for an Indigenous Peoples’ Day was first made at a 1977 United Nations conference. A little over a decade later, South Dakota became the first state to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day.