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It's Past Time to Abolish Columbus Day and Establish Indigenous Peoples' Day in the United States

The holiday is a monument to white supremacy, and it’s time we abolished it.

Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas was no discovery at all. (Photo: Victoria Pickering/flickr/cc)

Columbus’s "discovery" of the Americas was no discovery at all. (Photo: Victoria Pickering/flickr/cc)

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” The rhyme tells a story that is seeped into the consciousness of every American from a young age. The famed Columbus set sail across the Atlantic, discovered a “new world,” and set forth a new era of wealth and prosperity - a feat so momentous that the U.S. has made the second Monday of every October a holiday in his honor.

If only that were the true story.

Columbus’s “discovery” of the Americas was no discovery at all. He was not the first person to step foot on this soil, nor was he even the first European. Rather, he was a man who sailed and stumbled upon an island that had been inhabited by millions of Indigenous peoples for centuries. His true legacy is not one of discovery, but rather one of conquest, exploitation and genocide.

For centuries, the Euro-centric gatekeepers of history have erased our story and our humanity from textbooks and classrooms.

To celebrate Columbus Day is to celebrate America's violent, centuries-long history of colonialism and racism. It’s to celebrate a man who enslaved and slaughtered millions of Indigenous people and stole our land. The holiday is a monument to white supremacy, and it’s time we abolished it.

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This past year, we’ve witnessed an awakening across the United States to this country’s dark, racist history. Calls for justice and reparations are growing louder and louder, but when it comes to reconciling the American myth with Indigenous truth, the U.S. still has a long way to go.

For centuries, the Euro-centric gatekeepers of history have erased our story and our humanity from textbooks and classrooms. Imagery in Hollywood films presenting Indigenous people as “savages,” and racist mascots in professional sports have normalized the mocking of our culture and sacred customs. Our communities face continued systemic racism - from disproportionate access to healthcare and quality education, to discrimination in jobs and wages, to violence by the police, and more. We continue to fight every day for our autonomy and for our right to the land that was stolen from us.

On this second Monday of October 2020, we can take an important step toward healing by abolishing Columbus Day, and instead, establishing a nationwide Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

While many counties, towns, cities, school districts, and other localities have made the switch, only 6 states have officially and permanently replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ or Native American Day. Hawaii recognizes today as “Discoverer’s Day.” Likewise, there is a growing movement across the country to remove and replace statues of Columbus, and other monuments to our racist and colonialist history.

It’s beyond time for the United States to reckon with the truth of what really happened when colonizers landed here in the 1400s, and for Indigenous children to be provided the culturally competent, inclusive education they’ve deserved all along.

We need organizers, elected officials and policymakers, and people everywhere to include Indigenous priorities in all policy proposals and solutions. Our voices have been erased for too long -- but by centering our values of fairness, justice and inclusion, we can begin to heal. We can build the collective, nurturing world we all deserve.

Edgar Villanueva

Edgar Villanueva

Edgar Villanueva is an activist, author, philanthropist, and Founder of the Decolonizing Wealth Project.

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