This is a partial reprise of a post I did in 2019, but with some revisions/additions/updates.
Last Friday, 7 October 2022, President Biden issued the 2nd Presidential Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples’ Day. There has been a growing movement to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day and at least ten states have already done so. Ten other states officially observe the day, though they have not replaced Columbus Day as yet. In addition, more than 100 cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, Phoenix and San Francisco.
Many students learn the phrase, “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”. But Columbus was not the first foreign explorer to land in the Americas. Neither he nor those that came before him discovered America—because Indigenous Peoples have populated the Western Hemisphere for tens of thousands of years. European contact resulted in devastating loss of life, disruption of tradition, and enormous loss of lands for Indigenous Peoples in the Americas. It is estimated that in the 130 years following first contact, Native America lost 95 percent of its population.
Over the past few decades there has been a growing movement to alter the holiday to honour those who first occupied the country. So … how did this all start?
In 1977, the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland, began to discuss replacing Columbus Day in the United States with a celebration to be known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
1992 would mark the 500th anniversary of the voyage of Columbus, and there was a “Quincentennial Jubilee” planned to mark the date. In San Francisco, the day was to include replicas of Columbus’ ships sailing under the Golden Gate Bridge and reenacting their “discovery” of America. It was then that the Bay Area Indian Alliance was formed, and they created the “Resistance 500” task force, promoting the idea that Columbus’ “discovery” of inhabited lands and subsequent European colonization of these areas had resulted in the genocide of indigenous peoples by decisions of colonial and national governments.
The group convinced the city council of Berkeley, California, to declare October 12 as a “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People” and 1992 the “Year of Indigenous People”. The city implemented related programs in schools, libraries, and museums. The city symbolically renamed Columbus Day as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” beginning in 1992 to protest the historical conquest of North America by Europeans, and to call attention to the losses suffered by the Native American peoples and their cultures through diseases, warfare, massacres, and forced assimilation.
In the current socio-political culture whereby many states and localities are attempting to whitewash the history of this nation, to pretend that European settlers, white people, were some shining stars without fault, I think it is more important than ever that we remember our past, recognize the horrific wrongs that were done to Indigenous Peoples as well as Blacks, Hispanics and others, in order to ensure that future generations will will never repeat these terrible tragedies.In the years following Berkeley’s action, other local governments and institutions have either renamed or canceled Columbus Day, either to celebrate Native American history and cultures, to avoid celebrating Columbus and the European colonization of the Americas, or due to raised controversy over the legacy of Columbus.
Let’s take a look at just a few of the many contributions indigenous people have made to our world:
- Constitution & Bill of Rights: According to Benjamin Franklin, the “concept” for the federal government was influenced by the Constitution of the Iroquois League of Nations.
- Sign Language: Today, hand signals are used to communicate with those who are deaf and/or mute. A similar system was originated to facilitate trade between Native Americans and early trappers/traders.
- Products: Native Americans are credited with introducing such diverse products as snowshoes, moccasins, toboggans, buckskin jackets, Kayaks, cradle boards, tomahawks, rubber, cotton, quinine, tobacco, cigars, and pipe smoking, among others.
- Military Service: The participation rate of Native Americans in military service is higher than for any other ethnic group in the U.S. Members from many Indian nations have served with distinction and in a way that helped the U.S. win World Wars I and II… through the use of their various Native languages.
- Conservation: The Native Americans have always held a deep respect for the land and for our connection to this planet known as “Mother Earth.” They have always striven to live in harmony with the seasons and the land, to take only what was needed, and to thank every plant, animal, or thing that was used.
- Art/Design: The traditional and contemporary music of Native Americans have become integrated in many other cultures and musical styles. Indian artwork such as paintings, beadwork, totem poles, turquoise jewelry, and silversmithing, all remain beautiful and unmatched in this society.
And of course, a wide variety of foods, including potatoes, beans, corn, peanuts, pumpkins, tomatoes, squash, peppers, nuts, melons, and sunflower seeds.
We can never make up to the indigenous people in the Americas for what was done to their ancestors, but we can resolve to do better, and we can honour them in this way, by setting aside a special day of remembrance for all that they went through, and for all that they have given.
Note to Readers: I am closing comments on this post, for the comments have gotten out of hand. Sorry, folks.