Columbus Day has been recognized in the United States since 1937. Many people continue to honor the day in recognition of the first well-known and documented explorer to land in the Americas, sparking the beginning of the creation of The United States of America, in October of 1492. This federally recognized holiday presents a special opportunity for educators and equity advocates to engage in critical, courageous conversations not only about Columbus, but also about the history and rich legacy of the Indigenous peoples who thrived in the Americas prior to 1492.
The United States’ Shift to Indigenous Peoples’ Day
While the movement to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day is still relatively isolated nationwide, it is catching on. In October of last year, the nation’s capital voted to temporarily replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And D.C. isn’t alone in taking this step. Berkeley and Los Angeles, Seattle, Denver, Cambridge, and Cincinnati are among a growing number of cities shifting to Indigenous People’s Day. This shift is also happening on the state level in Alaska, South Dakota, and Maine! This movement has been led by Indigenous tribes and peoples who take immense pride in their cultural identity, and are passionate about inclusion, equity, and belonging.
Columbus Day and Teaching
We can all agree that one duty of educators is to teach young people multiple historical perspectives, including those that are lesser-known. By simply acknowledging these varying perspectives, communities take one step toward mending cultural wounds and celebrating the Indigenous peoples that were first on this land, as well as those who remain on their ancestral lands today.
How to Take Action
So how can you start to incorporate different perspectives around Columbus Day and other holidays that involve Indigenous peoples into your life?
In the Classroom:
Use an objective lens to evaluate your teaching lessons around Columbus Day, Thanksgiving, and other holidays that have to do with Indigenous Peoples. Ask yourself if you are teaching a complete picture or a more idealistic version that avoids uncomfortable topics. Try to incorporate multiple historically accurate perspectives.
Bring in living members of local Indigenous tribes/organizations to talk about the history of Indigenous peoples in your area. For suggestions of local reputable speakers contact the Ohio Historical Society: Stacey Halfmoon, Director of American Indian Relations, at [email protected].
In Your Everyday Life:
This article was collaboratively written by special guest authors Madison Eagle (Tribal Affiliation: Tsalagi (Cherokee) and Shawnee) and Melissa Beard Jacob (Tribal Affiliation: Ojibwe – Sault Ste. Marie Tribe of Chippewa Indians) who are Intercultural Specialists for the Student Life Multicultural Center at The Ohio State University. Dr. Sierra Austin also contributed to this blog post.