Forget Columbus—These Cities Are Recognizing Native Americans

Nine areas are opting for a new tradition that honors indigenous people instead of explorer Christopher Columbus.

A reveler dances during a powwow celebrating the Indigenous Peoples' Day Festival on New York City's Randall's Island on Oct. 11. (Photo: Eduardo Munoz/Reuters)

Oct 12, 2015· 1 MIN READ
TakePart editorial fellow Nicole Mormann covers a variety of topics, including social justice, entertainment, and environment.

Columbus Day is widely recognized as a national holiday, celebrated by many with parades and paid time off. But a growing number of cities are opting for a new tradition and paying tribute to an underrepresented demographic.

In 1990, South Dakota became the first state to rename Columbus Day as Native American Day. Berkeley, California, adopted Indigenous Peoples Day two years later. City councils in Seattle and Minneapolis voted in favor of recognizing the holiday last year.

This year, Native Americans will take the spotlight in eight more cities (and one county) across the U.S.: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; Olympia, Washington; Lawrence, Kansas; Bexar County, Texas; Anadarko, Oklahoma; Alpena, Michigan; and Carrboro, North Carolina. All have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

Columbus Day has long been a source of controversy; opponents maintain it wrongly celebrates a historical period of colonialism that caused suffering for indigenous people as a result of invading Europeans’ brutality and the diseases they brought. Supporters argue that it honors the Italian explorer Christopher Columbus for bridging the gap between America and Europe in 1492.

Today, Native Americans make up 2 percent of the population, or nearly 5.2 million—roughly the population of Colorado—living in the U.S.

On top of Native American activists working to make their history better recognized, there’s been a push to eliminate stereotypes that are insensitive to indigenous culture and the racism that for centuries was used to justify indigenous people’s subjugation. On Sunday, Gov. Jerry Brown made California the first state to bar public schools from using the term “Redskins” as an athletic team or mascot name. The law will go into effect on Jan. 1, 2017, by which time the six remaining schools using the moniker will have to adopt new ones.

With working people in 23 states benefiting from the Columbus Day holiday on Monday, there’s no telling whether renaming it Indigenous Peoples Day will catch on in those places. People who identify as Native American, though, are seeing their history and heritage celebrated in more places than ever.