For the first time, Indian Prarie School District changed “Columbus Day” to “Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” This change is not only limited to us but across the United States in which we question if we should celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day. (Ayaana Pradhan)
For the first time, Indian Prarie School District changed “Columbus Day” to “Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” This change is not only limited to us but across the United States in which we question if we should celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Ayaana Pradhan

The Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day debate perpetuates discussion just like its history

October 11, 2021

Today is Columbus Day, honoring Christopher Columbus landing in the Americas in 1492. But as Americans learn more about Columbus, more and more wonder if he is a man who should be celebrated. This year, for the first time, Indian Prairie School District lists Monday as No School for “Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” So, should there be recognition to the man who helped transition into the New World or rather the people Columbus invaded and colonized? 

The history of Columbus and Indigenous people

Columbus Day is a United States holiday marking the landing of Christopher Columbus in the Americas in 1492. Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, and was a well-known explorer. He set sail after being ordered by the Spanish rulers King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella to find a new route to India. He and about 90 other men set sail on three ships: the Santa Maria, the Pinta, and the Niña. He somehow trailed off course and ended up in the Americas more specifically the Bahamas leading him to claim the founding of the Americas. 

However, Indigenous tribes were already settled here. The land on which they lived was a part of their culture. Their ancestors who had died were buried on the same land they grew up on. So, when their land was colonized, the Indigenous tribes became upset with Columbus and the Spanish explorers who were taking away part of their culture. On the first day, the Spaniards ordered six indigenous people to be seized as servants.

The formation of Columbus and Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The first day the United States dedicated to Christopher Columbus was in 1792 when the political organization Tammany Hall planned a celebration to honor the 300th anniversary of Columbus’ stumbling upon the Americas. Despite being recognized by a number of areas from as early as the 1700s, the celebration of Columbus’ expedition became a federal government holiday in 1937 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt after the persuasion of the Catholic organization, Knights of Columbus.

This holiday occurs every second Monday of October and holds particular importance to some Italian-Americans, as Columbus was a famous Italian explorer. However, there has been a rise in the number of people questioning whether or not Columbus deserves a day dedicated to him. 

The most prominent argument is that Columbus did not truly discover the Americas as they were already inhabited by the Indigenous people who had found the land long before he had. Those who do not support the holiday celebrating Columbus would prefer it to recognize Indigenous people and the colonization that Columbus imposed on them and their culture. 

States including Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, and Virginia all officially celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day rather than Columbus Day.”

Although there are people who support this change, there are some who believe that it is unfair to Americans of Italian descent.

As Chicago Public Schools are now among the list of districts that observe Indigenous Peoples’ day, members of the Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans, which plans the annual Columbus Day parade, have been upset with the decision. To some Italian-Americans, Columbus was a prominent figure within their culture that represented resilience: this change erases that. To those in support of the name change, Indigenous Peoples’ Day provides an opportunity to acknowledge the history that is often not taught and the horrors that were inflicted upon Indigenous people.

Columbus Day is a necessary holiday despite the actions of Columbus himself

At first glance, the fight to change Columbus Day makes sense. The brave, heroic, adventurous man we all learned about in history class ended up being a murderous inhumane conquistador, whose brutality was extreme even for the time period. His victims, the indigenous people, bore the brunt of his bloodlust. So why not change the name of the holiday to honor his victims and remember the suffering they had to endure? Why not leave Columbus in the dustbin of history, where so many say he belongs?

For one, Columbus Day is observed as a federal holiday in the United States. It is also celebrated to various degrees elsewhere, but for our intensive purposes, we only care about his impact here in the U.S.

According to the Washington Post and contemporary historical analysis, Christopher Columbus never set foot in the current continental United States. In fact, he never set foot in any of North America”

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Columbus and his crew first landed on the island the Indian’s called Guanahani, but the Europeans renamed it San Salvador. That island is now a part of the archipelago nation of the Bahamas. Columbus then investigated the Lesser Antilles of the Caribbean, the northern coast of South America, and bits of Central America before being renounced and deposed from his position by the Crown of Castile. This is relevant, as while his brutality greatly decimated several natives in the New World, not a drop of blood was directly spilled by him on the soil of the land that would eventually become the United States.

There is no beating around the bush, however. Columbus was first and foremost a conquistador. His mission was to discover, colonize, and profit off the New World resources and people via subjugation and slavery for the Spanish Crown. The nature of his position meant that he would have to resort to inhumane and callous methods to benefit his crew and the Kingdom of Spain, all at the cost of the natives. This, in and of itself, may be a reason to dismiss Columbus as anything more than a murderer. Certainly not a hero. After all, what kind of hero could possibly do such treacherous and disgusting things? 

The fact of the matter is that all historical heroes have major flaws. Even the greats of history have committed major blunders in our modern ethical worldview that would seem universally irredeemable. According to NPR Illinois, Abraham Lincoln – one of the most beloved presidents of all time – was not exempt from the racist and bigoted views of his time. While he was firmly and fundamentally against slavery in the United States, he did not necessarily believe in true equality between the races, nor that Black people should hold office. It took four bloody years of civil war for Lincoln to even consider the idea of allowing Black people to hold citizenship and vote. Martin Luther (the Protestant Reformer, not the American Civil Rights activist) advocated for massive social change against the Roman Catholic Church. He declared that the Church was stealing from the common people and scamming them through the sale of indulgences. (Indulgences were contracts between the Church and ordinary Catholics that promised swift access to heaven upon death in exchange for a hefty fee). His actions weakened the Church that had dominated and tyrannized Europe for centuries. Eventually the ripple effect of his ideas gave way to religious pluralism and the slow acceptance of most religious identities within Europe. Even so, Luther was a raging anti-Semite, declaring in his book titled “On the Jews and Their Lies” that Jewish people were a rejected and condemned people, and that true good Christians should burn down their places of worship and harass them incessantly. The man who had advocated for a change from religious tyranny had himself called for fundamentalist terrorism against those he disagreed with.

These heroes of history, these champions of the past, had all done or believed despicable and downright dejectable things. Their views today, at the very least, are considered incredibly problematic and controversial. Have these ‘heroes’ ceased being heroes? Has their profound benevolent impact on history and our current world failed to matter anymore because of some of the inexcusable things they have propagated?

Human beings are incredibly complicated creatures. They are contradictory, complex, and hypocritical. Especially concerning figures of the past, they appear to do so much good for the world until it is revealed that they are a product of their past, and have made mistake after mistake after mistake. The question remains: does this warrant a refusal to celebrate the achievements they made, the accomplishments they have done, and the impact on history they have left?

Columbus was not an angel. He was not even close. But perhaps Columbus Day is less about Columbus himself and more about what he represents. The drive in humanity to seek out answers, to take a shot in the dark and discover something new, to change the course of history simply by being foolish enough to believe that you can. While the Indigenous people undoubtedly deserve their own holiday and respected day on our calendars, it would not be entirely fair to have that be at the expense of Columbus. His savagery and cruelty were undeniable, but so was his impact on history. So was his boldness to attempt to circumvent the Earth with just three ships and less than one hundred men. For that reason, even if it is uncomfortable to call Columbus a hero, it should at least be recognized that his impact on history is unprecedented, and should continue to be recognized despite the many horrific blunders of his life.

Indigenous Peoples’ deserve recognition for their part in history

Indigenous Peoples’ Day arose as an alternative to Columbus Day, in which Native Americans protested for honoring a man who had enabled their colonization and forced assimilation. Essentially, the Indigenous people were oppressed by this man who happened to stumble on their land. Yet, Christopher Columbus is a glorified figure in United States history, and therefore, glorifying his violent actions enables people to miss what really happened in the eyes of Indigenous people. 

From the moment Columbus set foot in the Americas, he found ways to inflict harm upon the Indigenous people who lived there first. Columbus and his sailing crew damaged the land that did not belong to them to search for gold and kidnapped the people who lived there.

When Columbus found the land, now referred to as the Bahamas, the Lucayan people welcomed him and showed him kindness. Unfortunately, he quickly took advantage of that by kidnapping people from their homes and bringing them along while he sailed to find other lands. He eventually came across the Taíno people and continued on the same path of destruction by building a fort for members of his crew on their land, killing two more people, and bringing more Indigenous people along with him back to Spain. Sadly, the Taíno people who were kidnapped passed away once the ship sailed through colder climates. 

Along with directly killing Indigenous people, the Europeans brought many diseases that the Taíno people were not immune to, such as smallpox and measles. According to The Smithsonian Magazine, three million people could have possibly died, either from starvation, being killed, or contracting an illness that had no cure at that time. Those things could have either been prevented or put off for many years had Columbus and his group not colonized land that did not belong to them. 

It does not make sense to honor the murderer and rapist of this situation but rather the victims who were just minding their business in a society that they created for themselves.

The change in District 204’s calendar progresses towards recognizing diversity

Just this year, District 204 enacted a change in their district calendar in which they listed no school on Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Oct. 11. Conversations about the topic of whether or not it should be called one way or another have been sparked well in past history.

In a 2018 Chicago Tribune article, a community advocacy group called Indivisible Aurora pushed the city of Aurora to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. They highlighted points like, “Columbus Day celebrates ‘a cruel history of violence and subjugation.’” While that may be true, the history behind Christopher Columbus is continuously taught in the education curriculum. It is taught that he had discovered the Americas in 1492 and is this important figure in history. So, why the change?

Because diversity, representation, and respect matter. There are two sides to every story, in this historical event we see Christopher Columbus and the Indigenous people. Indigenous people were raped and invaded by the violence of Columbus, but Columbus also impacted and progressed history.

This choice in which District 204 made Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples’ on Oct. 11 exhibits that there are two sides to this annual United States celebration and how we should respect both. We do not condone the cruel and violent history but respect the people who were involved and pay homage to their place in history.

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    Dylan HattenOct 12, 2021 at 7:55 am

    It’s insane that people will still praise Christopher Columbus now that we know what he’s done in the past. While you can be thankful for living in America, thanking Columbus himself is ignoring the people he’s killed and assaulted upon his raged run through the first few months in this continent.

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