Blog Credit by: Melayna Patton, ’24 and Aries Valles, ’24

Columbus Day, in many states, is celebrated every 10th of October and is a day to acknowledge Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer, accredited by some historians as the ‘first’ explorer of the Americas. This day commemorates a day of ‘discovery,’ but to many, a day of atrocity, not to mention inaccuracy.

Instead of praising the Indigenous People who originally occupied the land, Columbus Day has traditionally been a day to celebrate the ‘discovering of the Americas.’ Since the creation and declaration of Columbus Day as a holiday, it has felt as though the forceful occupation of Native American land has been celebrated. Meanwhile, schools have offered no help in teaching the truth about Columbus. The educational system has traditionally defined Columbus and his explorations as the embodiment of an ideal explorer and is an example of whitewashing the history of America. Educators have long bred the idea of Columbus discovering America for generations and falsely idealizing the U.S. to be this superior country. 

One of the biggest myths about this history is that Columbus discovered the United States, however, Columbus never stepped foot in the United States. His voyages brought him to many locations in Central, and South America, the closest being several of the islands of the Caribbean. Not to mention there were numerous Indigenous tribes already residing in these areas, further contradicting the idealized version of Columbus’ narrative.

Throughout the regions of the Americas, many Tribal Nations were well established across the land with long heritages of traditions. The establishment of their way of life was full of culture and civilizations. It was a place of goodwill. However, after Columbus began expanding his exploration and colonization, Indigenous people and lands were corrupted.

Columbus and additional explorers brought along with them many diseases like malaria, chickenpox, and plagues that Native American people were unfamiliar with. These diseases brought the death of many of them and millions of Indigenous lives are estimated to have perished. This doesn’t account for the lives lost due to warfare, pillaging, or any of the other atrocities that Columbus and others committed.

However, as time progressed, Indigenous grassroots advocates have drawn attention to addressing the discrimination against American Indians, including abolishing Columbus Day. These advocacy efforts have surged throughout the Americas, exposing Columbus Day as an inappropriate celebration of genocide and dispossession.

Soon, States began abolishing Columbus Day and chose instead to honor the Indigenous people who populated the Americas long before Columbus, beginning with South Dakota in 1989. Despite these advocacy efforts, the U.S. Federal Government and some states still recognize Columbus Day as an official holiday. In 2020, Colorado established Cabrini Day as a State holiday in recognition of Saint Frances Zavier Cabrini, a humanitarian who helped immigrants, and even established several hospitals across the United States. While Indigenous Peoples’ Day is not an official state holiday in Colorado, we are grateful the University of Northern Colorado acknowledges Indigenous People’s Day and Cabrini Day. We appreciate that UNC recognizes the resilience of the Indigenous community.

References:

CarbiniDay4CO. “Cabrini Day.” Cabrini Day Holiday Commission, https://www.cabrini 

day.com/. 24, September 2022 

CBS News Colorado. “Native American Advocates in Colorado Call For End To Celebrating 

Columbus Day.” 2021 CBS Broadcasting Inc. https://www.cbsnews.com/colorado/news/ 

native-american-colorado-columbus-day/. 25, September 2022

Faircloth, Susan. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day: Why it’s replacing Columbus Day in many places.”

Colorado State University. https://source.colostate.edu/indigenous-peoples-day-why-its- 

replacing-columbus-day-in-many-places/. 24, September 2022. 

History.com Editors. “Columbus Day 2022.”  HISTORY, A&E Television Networks, https://www.history.com/topics/exploration/columbus-day. 26, September 2022

Mineo, Liz. “A day of reckoning.” The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/ 

2020/10/pondering-putting-an-end-to-columbus-day-and-a-look-at-what-could-follow/. 

24, September 2022.

The White House. “A Proclamation on Columbus Day, 2021.” WH.GOV, https://www.white 

house.gov/briefing-room/presidential-actions/2021/10/08/a-proclamation-on-columbus-day-2021/. 24, September 2022 

Zinn Howard. A People's History of the United States : 1492-2001. New ed. HarperCollins 2003.