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So What Happened to Columbus Day? | Aimee Han

Every year, on the second Monday of October, our federal government, schools, offices, and banks acknowledge Columbus Day as a national holiday. But not this year. As Generation Z has played a major role in the uprising of civil unrest over the past several months, there is one thing we must all consider: Have we ignored the suffering of indigenous people for generations and generations for the convenience of a three day weekend? Have we distorted our history in order to glorify the enslavement, oppression, genocide, and displacement of Indigenous people to hide our guilt and shame?

And the answer is yes, we have. For that reason, Indigenous Peoples’ day has been gaining major traction and much more recognition than years previous, despite activists raising awareness about it since the 1970’s. So what exactly is Indigenous Peoples’ day and why was Columbus day not heavily acknowledged this year?

Indigenous Peoples’ day is currently celebrated in certain states, such as Hawaii or South Dakota; it is a day dedicated to celebrating the culture of Indigenous people and a day for raising awareness and educating others of the perpetuated issues they face. For instance, 370 million Indigenous people make up 15% of the world’s extreme poor and they even suffer higher rates of landlessness, malnutrition, and internal displacement. Although there are many lands reserved for these communities, they are also continuously forced to leave their home lands of their ancestors in order to accommodate the creation of infrastructure such as new highways. Thus, the holiday address the problems with Columbus day: (whether intentional or not) the celebration of European colonization, genocide, enslavement, and the displacement of Indigenous communities that was reinforced and has persisted.

Many people are even under the false impression that Columbus discovered North America and is henceforth, a historic hero. However, historians have discovered that the Vikings discovered the Americas five centuries earlier, and Columbus even thought Native Americans were Indians; he unintentionally discovered the Americas. So why do we still celebrate this “hero” if he really isn’t a hero at all?

And the simple answer is that most people want a hero. In times of uncertainty and civil unrest, especially in the year of the presidential election, a global pandemic, and the arising concerns of climate change, it is just ever so tempting to succumb to our anxieties and deem a historical figure as heroic to prove that there’s some good in the world even if the “hero” has impacted history more negatively than positively. So, we shouldn’t honor a “hero” because of their persisting legacy. By celebrating Columbus Day, we are glorifying our nation’s history of oppression against Indigenous communities. We are the land of the free, yet we don’t acknowledge that not all of us are free and not all of us have a just choice. We rarely even acknowledge the fact that we are on stolen land.

To celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ day, we should honor these communities first and foremost by educating ourselves. By signing petitions and adding pressure to our school districts, cities, states, and even our nation, we are bound to make a change, take a stand, and refuse to let our whitewashed history consume us and fuel our undeserved pride of our nation’s history. It’s about time for some change.

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