Why is Celebrating Columbus Day So Controversial?

Although the second Monday of October has been celebrated as a national holiday for nearly a century, this will be only the second year that Indigenous Peoples Day has been recognised as such.

Columbus Day is a celebration that was first held in 1977 to honour Native American history and culture, and it was officially recognised as a federal holiday by President Joe Biden in October. The presidential endorsement was the biggest support to far for efforts to change the focus of a public holiday that had long honoured Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Americas.

Few Americans would disagree with a day off on the first Monday in October, but the choice between celebrating Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day has sparked political debate in many parts of the United States, especially in the last decade, with some people advocating for the status quo and others advocating for a change.

What Really is Columbus Day?

Columbus Day is celebrated annually on the second Monday of October to honor the anniversary of Christopher Columbus’s landing in the Americas on October 12, 1492. On that date in 1971, it was officially recognized as a federal holiday.

Columbus Day Controversy

Columbus may have been the catalyst for European immigration to North America, but he ended up being more of a villain than a hero because of the harm he did to Native Americans and the new diseases and conflicts he introduced to what would become the United States.

A symbolic name change to Indigenous Peoples’ Day was instituted in 1992 as a result of this realisation. Instead of emphasising Columbus, the day is a time to recognise and appreciate the contributions of Native Americans and to reflect on their rich cultural heritage. While it’s not a federal holiday, ten states and dozens of municipalities have made it such as an alternative to celebrating Columbus Day.

The United States “celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognises their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honouring Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations” on Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which President Joe Biden declared for the first time in 2016.

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Why is Celebrating Columbus Day So Controversial?

Christopher Columbus was once seen as a hero for discovering and opening up the Americas to European colonisation. However, in more recent years, it has become increasingly clear that Columbus was actually a villain. It is well recorded that he brutalised the native people of North America and introduced new diseases, wars, and other problems.

Columbus Day Controversy

Historians have learnt, for example, that on the first day he landed in the West Indies in 1492, Columbus captured six locals and made them his servants, just one example of the numerous people he enslaved. Numerous thousands were shipped to Spain for commercial sale.

In addition, some people were made to work in mines looking for gold. When he came, the Taino population was estimated at 250,000, but after 60 years only a few hundred remained.

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Where to Find Indigenous Peoples Day Events?

There are now over a dozen states and over 130 municipal governments that either no longer celebrate Columbus Day or have replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Many nations honour both holidays.

Eleven U.S. states have officially recognised Indigenous Peoples Day or an equivalent holiday, while another ten have declared it a day of observance through proclamations. Arizona, California, Iowa, Louisiana, Michigan, Minnesota, Nevada, North Carolina, Virginia, and Wisconsin are among the 10 states that have officially declared their support for the holiday.

Columbus Day Controversy

Ten of these states are Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Maine, Nebraska, New Mexico, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont, all of which officially observe the holiday. In Oklahoma, some Native American communities observe Native American Day on the same day that others observe Columbus Day.

More than a hundred municipalities, including Seattle, Los Angeles, Boston, Denver, Phoenix, and San Francisco, have officially declared the second Monday in October to be Indigenous Peoples Day.

Stevens argued that officially recognising Indigenous Peoples Day will encourage more people to support indigenous causes and provide an opportunity for older Americans to learn more about historical crimes in the United States.

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Are Banks and Government Offices Closed?

Due to the federal holiday status of Columbus Day, most financial institutions will be closed. American National Bank stands out because it chooses to keep its branches open. If you need cash or want to make a deposit, you can still use an ATM.

While it is clear that federal buildings will be closed, the situation is less clear at the local level. For example, although Chicago’s municipal buildings are closed today, those in Delaware will be operational. Unfortunately, many of the states that officially recognise Indigenous Peoples Day do not include it on the list of paid holidays.

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