Op-Ed: Columbus Day vs. Indigenous People’s Day

Sydney Stone October 18, 2013 2
Op-Ed: Columbus Day vs. Indigenous People’s Day

Many know Christopher Columbus as the man who sailed the ocean blue in 1492— but do we really know who he was?

Schoolchildren are introduced to Columbus as the man who discovered America and brought civilization to the “uncivilized.” None of this makes sense, yet our national government takes a holiday to celebrate a ruthless, self-centered oppressor of native traditions.

According to Biography.com, Columbus sought a direct ocean trade route to Asia, and was rejected many times by rulers from Portugal, Genoa and Venice before being sponsored by Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella.  The King and Queen gave Columbus their seal of approval for a three-ship voyage to the what they thought was Asia. After a 33 day expedition to what they assumed was India, he landed upon the coast of the Bahamas.

Columbus in the Bahamas in 1492. Source: English Club

Columbus in the Bahamas in 1492.
Source: English Club

From then on, Columbus took over everything in his path.  He used the native people as slaves, remade their culture as his own, and for many native people, ruined their way of life.

However, Columbus Day has been celebrated in America on the second Monday of October since 1937. As upper school students, we learn that the indigenous cultures were very self-sufficient and successful before Columbus swooped in to “help.” In fact, many people feel that naming a national holiday after this man is wrong.

Many theories have risen regarding what to call the holiday alternatively, one of which is Indigenous People’s Day, which celebrates Native Americans and all indigenous peoples around the world.

In the Los Angeles Times, Assemblyman Roger Hernandez commented on the issue saying, ”Columbus Day is still recognized in California, despite the egregious actions taken against Native American people.”

Know what you’re celebrating.  It is completely fine to celebrate Columbus Day, to celebrate the pioneering spirit that America is all about, but I ask that you consider all points of view. There is nothing wrong with celebrating Columbus Day if you are fully educated on the truth of the matter.  The problem arises when people blindly celebrate Columbus Day solely based on the fact that it is on our calendar.


Featured Image: Native Americans dance in celebration of Indigenous People’s Day.  Source: United Nations Development Programme



  1. Ms. Keddie October 24, 2013 at 5:21 pm - Reply

    Great op-ed. I think the time has come to remove this as a national holiday or at least change who/what we are honoring.

  2. Kristin Taylor October 21, 2013 at 5:18 pm - Reply

    Thanks for this thoughtful op-ed, Syd. You should check out this article about pre-Columbian urbanism: http://www.urbanindy.com/2012/10/11/pre-columbian-urbanism/

    It’s a great way to break those stereotypes!

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