Some states forgo Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

A growing number of states are forgoing Columbus Day to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Monday. The holiday celebrates and honors Native American peoples and commemorates their histories and cultures.

The alternative to Columbus Day has been gaining momentum around the country recently. Last Tuesday, Wisconsin became the latest state to formally recognize the holiday and the sixth to do so this year after Vermont, Maine, Louisiana, Michigan and New Mexico made the change. A total of 12 states and the District of Columbia now celebrate it. South Dakota was the first state to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1990. 

On the national level, however, the federal Columbus Day holiday remains in place. 

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What is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Since 1992, Native American advocates have pressed states to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day to honor native cultures and recognize the fact that Columbus’ arrival was followed by centuries of genocide against indigenous populations in the Americas.

Congresswoman Deb Haaland, a Democrat from New Mexico, is one of the first two Native American women that were elected to Congress last year. Her state is celebrating the holiday and she is co-sponsoring legislation that would make the second Monday of each October Indigenous Peoples’ Day nationwide. 

“Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about acknowledging indigenous peoples’ complex history in this country and celebrating the culture, heritage, and strength of native communities everywhere,” Haaland said last week. “Celebrating Columbus Day continues a dangerous narrative that erases Native American voices and minimizes the federal government’s attempt at genocide and forced assimilation.”

Columbus Day parades and protests

The celebration of Columbus Day has been marked by controversy and even vandalism in some areas. A statue of the Italian explorer was found vandalized in Rhode Island with red paint and a sign that said: “Stop Celebrating Genocide,” CBS affiliate WPRI reported Monday.

Over the weekend, San Francisco city workers spent the day cleaning off the statue of Christopher Columbus atop Telegraph Hill after it was defaced with red paint and graffiti, according to CBS San Francisco

In some communities, Columbus Day has been adopted as a holiday more broadly celebrating the contributions of Italian-Americans to the United States. In New York City, a sea of red, white and green overtook Manhattan on Monday as tens of thousands of people took part in the annual Columbus Day Parade and an estimated 1 million turned out to watch.

“Let everybody know that we’re proud to be Italian, and Italians have contributed so much to everything that has made America, and we should be proud and we are proud,” said Martina Vidas, who is originally from Sicily.

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