As people around the United States celebrate Columbus Day Monday, with government offices and most schools closed, many others will be hosting festivities for an alternative celebration: Native American Day. The relatively new holiday, celebrated in cities and towns across the country, was started as a way to honor the indigenous people who were living in North and South America long before the arrival of Christopher Columbus in 1492.
At least nine cities in the U.S. will be officially celebrating “Indigenous Peoples Day” this year, including Albuquerque, New Mexico; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota, and Olympia, Washington, the Associated Press reported. Many of the festivities on this day involve celebrating traditions specific to the tribes of the region as well as educating other people about the culture and history of Native Americans.
The Italian explorer Christopher Columbus sailed from Spain, landing in what is now the Bahamas in 1492. Columbus since has been credited with discovering the New World. Indigenous people from tribes across North and South America have protested his title as discoverer, pointing out that they had lived in the Americas long before 1492. Some scientists estimate the indigenous people in the Americas arrived at least 12,000 years ago.
Columbus’ journey led to thousands of Europeans from across the continent leaving to come to the Americas to make their fortunes. As more and more settlers arrived, the Europeans often used force to push Native Americans off their land. Europeans also brought with them many diseases to which the native population never had been exposed and to which they had no immunity, such as smallpox and measles. As many as 20 million Native Americans died in the centuries following the arrival of European settlers.
As a result of this painful history, many Native American activists have been pushing to have the name of the holiday officially changed for more than four decades. Advocacy groups focused on getting city councils to pass the resolution separately from a federal government that has not made the change.
“For the Native community here, Indigenous Peoples Day means a lot. We actually have something,” said Nick Estes, an Albuquerque resident who organized celebrations for the holiday following its recent passage by city government, the AP reported.
“We understand it’s just a proclamation, but at the same time, we also understand this is the beginning of something greater,” Estes said.