It’s Time for the Federal Government to Say Goodbye to Columbus Day

(Photo:  Darren Thompson for Native News Online)
(Photo: Darren Thompson for Native News Online)

Opinion. On Monday we celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the United States. Well, some of us do.

Across the United States, tribal, federal, states, and local governments will be closed. They are closed because Monday is a federal holiday. Of course, the federal holiday does not celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Instead, the federal holiday celebrates Christopher Columbus, ignoring the actual history of the man.

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Growing up, I was not taught Columbus really was a lost sailor who was heading in a whole different direction than the western hemisphere.

I was also not taught Columbus actually never set foot on the land that is now known as the United States.

Nor was I taught of the atrocities that Columbus and his men perpetrated on the innocent Indigenous peoples in the western hemisphere:  the raping of Indigenous women, the thievery of goods, and ultimately of the land.

No, what I was taught was a constructed false narrative that began in elementary school about how “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492” and that he discovered America.

From early childhood as a young Potawatomi boy, I began to view history from a different lens than my non-Native students. Native Americans reject the notion you can discover land where inhabitants already live.

So, Columbus Day was a federal holiday that I felt uneasy about as it approached each October. Even as a child, I felt sick for the portrayal of Columbus as a hero, knowing our country’s constructed history was a hoax.

As an adult, I learned our Indigenous ancestors paid a premium price because of Columbus.

Author Jack D. Forbes writes the following in Columbus and Other Cannibals: “I will argue that we can compare the commemoration of Columbus with the doings of the neo-Nazis organizations in Europe and the Americas, groups which commemorate the great dates of Hitler’s regime.

“The difference is that the neo-Nazis are a minority and their commemorations usually do not receive much attention. The followers of Columbus, on the other hand, occupy seats of power throughout much of the Americas. Their holidays are national ones, often imposed on their respective societies.”

To Native Americans, Columbus is not considered a hero to be placed on a pedestal; rather, he is considered a dishonored villain. Indigenous people believe that a man who set in motion the mass genocide of this land’s first people should not be honored or glorified.

For this reason, Native Americans  have worked to change the celebration of Columbus Day to instead be called Indigenous Peoples’ Day.  In recent years, in cities and states around the country, Indigenous Peoples’ Day has gained recognition.

Now, it is time for the federal government to say goodbye to Columbus and fully embrace Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Last year, in his first year in office, President Joe Biden issued a proclamation to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. He was the first U.S. president to do so.

Last Friday, Biden declared Monday, October 10, 2022 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The proclamation reads in part:

“On Indigenous Peoples' Day, we honor the sovereignty, resilience, and immense contributions that Native Americans have made to the world; and we recommit to upholding our solemn trust and treaty responsibilities to Tribal Nations, strengthening our Nation-to-Nation ties.

“For centuries, Indigenous Peoples were forcibly removed from ancestral lands, displaced, assimilated, and banned from worshiping or performing many sacred ceremonies. Yet today, they remain some of our greatest environmental stewards. They maintain strong religious beliefs that still feed the soul of our Nation. And they have chosen to serve in the United States Armed Forces at a higher rate than any other group. Native peoples challenge us to confront our past and do better, and their contributions to scholarship, law, the arts, public service, and more continue to guide us forward.”

Keeping Columbus Day as a federal holiday allows the constructed hoax of Columbus discovering America to be perpetuated from one generation of Americans to the next.  That needs to change.

But today, even as people around this country celebrate the lost sailor, I’m not going to let it ruin my day. Instead, I’m going to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day with a smile because of the survival skills of our ancestors and the fact that we, the Indigenous peoples of this land, still remain.

Thayék gde nwéndëmen - We are all related.

About the Author: "Levi Rickert (Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation) is the founder, publisher and editor of Native News Online. Rickert was awarded Best Column 2021 Native Media Award for the print\/online category by the Native American Journalists Association. He serves on the advisory board of the Multicultural Media Correspondents Association. He can be reached at levi@nativenewsonline.net."

Contact: levi@nativenewsonline.net