Opinion: Columbus Day must remain, needs viewed differently

Matt Poe

Columbus Day is one of those holidays that doesn’t feel like a holiday. Banks are closed and some school districts acknowledge the day by not holding classes. Aside from this, the typical American doesn’t do much celebrating. For many, the holiday goes almost unnoticed. But for many indigenous people, primarily Native Americans, Columbus Day symbolizes a day of somberness and anger toward the well-known European explorer. 

Several communities and cities have renamed Columbus Day as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” in an effort to preserve the day for celebration of the indigenous people who were lost during the European exploration centuries ago. Alaska became the most recent state to rename the holiday when Gov. Bill Walker delivered an executive proclamation on Oct. 12. Walker stated that “Alaska is built upon the homelands and communities of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the state would not be possible,” according to Time Magazine.   

For many generations during elementary school, Columbus was spoken of through a simple, nursery-like rhyme: “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” During those same years of schooling, Columbus was depicted as an explorer who made the incredible “discovery” of the New World and although many children would not claim Columbus as their hero, he certainly was someone held in a positive light.   

It was during later schooling when students found out Columbus committed numerous atrocities during his time in the New World, including slavery, mutilation and killing indigenous people who did not collect their share of gold. Couple this with infectious diseases brought by Europeans to the New World and the true manner in which Columbus is depicted becomes much more grim and negative.  

Regardless of everything, the complete removal of Columbus Day would result in backfire. If the holiday, if you choose to call it such, were completely removed from the calendar as many people want it to be, would we continue to talk about Columbus and raise awareness of his “misinformed” reputation? Most importantly is that we keep this topic relevant and drive the conversation forward out of respect to the indigenous peoples who were lost during Columbus’ expedition and to the remaining population in America. His history is a major part of ours.

There should be no issue in communities who wish to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Indigenous people and Native Americans have endured terrible atrocities since the European colonization of America and the day should be a holiday to serve as remembrance and respect for a community who continues to face hardships. They deserve that holiday undoubtedly.  But to eliminate Columbus Day in its entirety is an attempt to deny a portion of our history that should be used as a teaching point for generations to come instead of swept under the rug like it never existed. The name of the day must remain the same, but the outlook needs to change.

Contact Matt Poe at [email protected].