October 14, 2019
This year, for the first time, the College officially recognizes the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples' Day to honor the histories, cultures, and contributions of Native peoples. As we know, the continent that Columbus is said to have discovered had long been inhabited. The colonization of the Americas that followed his landing decimated “the only peoples who can claim to be indigenous of this hemisphere” (Michel-Rolph Trouillot, Silencing the Past).
The celebration of Columbus Day has its origins in the late nineteenth century when the figure and myth of Christopher Columbus gained added significance in Europe and the United States for complex reasons. In this country, anti-Italian, anti-Catholic prejudice and violence played a role in pressuring President Benjamin Harrison to declare a one-time national holiday in Columbus’ name in 1892. President Franklin D. Roosevelt established it as a recurring national holiday in1934 in recognition of the contributions of Italian Americans to the country.
It is long past time to honor the cultures and contributions of the indigenous peoples of the Americas overwritten by Columbus Day. Let us look historical reality in the eye and acknowledge the literal and figurative erasures of Native Americans. Naming the holiday Indigenous Peoples' Day affirms our commitment to pursuing truth and understanding—a small but important step.