Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day

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Dr. David Childs, Ph.D.
Northern Kentucky University

Originally posted on October 24, 2019

Introduction
We recently celebrated Columbus Day, and for many people in the US it amounts to a bank holiday and the closing of some other government agencies. Columbus Day has been celebrated in the US since 1792. But the question has been increasingly asked, should we as a nation continue to celebrate Columbus Day? There is a growing group of voices that argue we should not be celebrating Christopher Columbus’ “discovery of America.” When I was in elementary and middle school, I remember my teachers speaking of Christopher Columbus as great explorer and hero. Did he deserve that kind of recognition? Some would argue in the negative. As a former classroom teacher and now college professor I do teach about Christopher Columbus’ important role in history but I would like to believe that I tell the “whole story.” 

Background on Columbus
What did Columbus do that was so important that it caused cities, countries, bodies of water,  and a holiday to be named after him? Christopher Columbus –who was well read in geography, history and astronomy, completed four important voyages across the Atlantic Ocean under sponsorship by the Catholic Monarchs of Castile and Aragon. While pursuing a route to the Far East, he discovered a viable sailing route to the Americas (Which he mistakenly called the East Indies). The route he found was then unknown to the Old World. Furthermore, Columbus led the first European expeditions to the Caribbean, Central America, and South America. The work he did and his travels initiated the opening of the “New World for conquest and settlement by the Europeans and the permanent European colonization of the Americas.” He was quite a successful explorer; his expeditions inaugurated a period of exploration, conquest, and colonization that lasted for centuries, helping create the modern Western world. Or put another way, he initiated the legacy of imperialism, colonialism and conquest of black and brown people groups that would be indicative of Europeans for centuries to come. He is infamously known for committing atrocities against the Native people in North America. Furthermore, he played a key role in the extinction of the Taíno people and promoted and advocated slavery (enslaving many of the Natives he encountered), which brings us to the discussion about Indigenous People’s Day.

What is Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in 1989 as a holiday to counter or protest Columbus Day. It is celebrated in the US on the second Monday in October. The idea is that Columbus should not be celebrated but exposed for his atrocities against indigenous people. Today the holiday honors and pays tribute to the history and culture of indigenous people  in North and South America who were settled in the Americas long before European settlers. The premise of the holiday is to reject the celebration of Columbus and the holiday as it is indicative of “the violent history of the colonization in the Western Hemisphere.”

Discussing Columbus Day and/or Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Classroom
It is important that educators not omit discussions about Christopher Columbus in their classroom. It is also important to be intellectually honest when teaching history. That is we should discuss history and culture from a relatively objective point (As much as objectivity can be achieved). Teachers should not only share the negative aspects of Christopher Columbus and earlier European explorers, but also honestly discuss contributions that he made. At the same time, much of the real stories have been omitted in social studies classroom discussions. t is important that this is corrected and that we share with students what really happened. The Indigenous Peoples’ Movement is a really great place to start with this conversation. Below we share articles, resources and lesson plans that can help teachers get more grounded on this topic and infuse this conversation into their curriculum.

Activities, Articles and Lessons
Reconsider Columbus Day
Honoring Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the Classroom
Indigenous Peoples’ Day Resources
Indigenous Peoples Day 2018- Teaching Tolerance
Lesson Plan: Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day?
Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?
Indigenous Peoples’ Day | All About the Holidays
Indigenous People’s Day Curriculum Night
Indigenous People’s Day Curriculum Teach-In

References
Indigenous Peoples’ Day
History and True Facts about Christopher Columbus
History and Facts About Columbus Day
Indigenous movements in the Americas

13 Comments

  1. I agree that teacher need to teach the entire truth of all history. Columbus should be known for his achievements in being the first European to explore the Americas since many people of his time thought that the Atlantic was what separated Europe to the East Indies. Columbus planned and intended to find a new and faster route Asia, but instead found The New World. I was also taught in school that Columbus was a hero and someone we should look up to. Not knowing the whole truth behind what really happened when he explored the land. It is nice to see now with resources like BrainPop, that is geared towards elementary aged kids, to teach that Columbus claimed the land for Spain even though there were already people living there. The BrainPop video states that it wasn’t right to take what is not yours, but that is what explorers did in those day. The video also shows and states that Columbus stole gold and food and showed how he forced native people into slavery.

    Columbus should be known for his accomplishments of finding a route to the New World but the whole truth and history needs to be taught to our students. I also believe that teachers should teach about Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the results of Columbus’ actions had on the Natives. The results were the colonization of the Americas, the begin to the slave trade, and deaths of millions by murder and disease. In many Latin American countries, the anniversary of Columbus’ journey and finding of land has been referred to as “Dia de la Raza” or translated as “Day of the Race” celebrating the diversity of their roots. (History.com)

    History needs to be taught with the whole truth not just one side of the events. Columbus is a part of our history and he is the reason the Americas are they way they are today. However, he is also part of the reason the natives land was taken away and forced into slavery as well as war waged against them. This is the part of the story that many of us were neglected to learn as we grew up.

  2. Dr. Childs:

    This discussion related to the celebration of Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day was truly enlightening. Additionally, it was truly revealing as to the reality that a teacher is faced with in balancing these conversations in the classroom. As a student, I remember studying Columbus as a hero and watching cartoons that depicted him in such a manner. However, this depiction does not tell the whole story in terms of the context of his work and the implications which it had. In conjunction with this, Indigenous Peoples’ Day was not celebrated or acknowledged during my tenure as a student. In light of these realities, it is absolutely imperative that we move forward with a more balanced approach that presents the entire story of history.

    As an educator, I would most certainly ensure that Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day were both acknowledged. First and foremost, students would need to learn the entire truth as it relates to Columbus’ story and the contributions which he made to settling North America and the implications which that had on our history. In addition to this, I would ensure that the negative circumstances surrounding his expeditions were taught objectively. I would pair these conversations with a discussion of the indigenous people of North America and explain their story and the history of several of the tribes across the continent.

    I believe it is essential to blend these conversations and explore each perspective individually. While exploring these various elements, it is imperative to include the negative points and perhaps even provide conversation points related to oppression today. Students can be challenged to apply social and emotional concepts as they learn to treat everyone equally and respect others regardless of their skin color. With this in place, students are able to apply real-life applications while also learning historical concepts.

    Thanks!
    Evan

  3. International and National holidays are very important, especially in a classroom. Many schools shut down for holidays (Thanksgiving, Christmas, etc.), but for many holidays the students are in the classroom. Columbus Day was used as a great example in the article; Christopher Columbus was, and in the eyes of many, still is seen as a great hero. He may have been a hero in some respects, but in many ways not so much. As students grow their knowledge, they should learn as you said, the “whole story”.
    Your idea of sharing the “whole story” is brilliant and should already be happening in classrooms all over the U.S. The reality of the matter is that the full story is often left out of many history books. There are many things to celebrate, but there are also things to shame, understand, and learn from. As you illustrated, there are many ways a teacher can approach this, one of them being the celebration and understanding of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. You can use this day to explain many of the saddening realities of European Colonialism and the events that followed, but also celebrate the culture and strengths of those indigenous peoples and their long reign of achievements.

  4. I really liked reading this. I’ve for a long time felt like there’s no reason to celebrate Columbus. I was actually surprised to learn that he did anything noteworthy. I really think it’s important to teach students the correct history about Columbus. I also really like the idea of replacing Columbus day with Indigenous People’s day. The Indigenous people who lived in America don’t get enough credit or recognition, and it seems right to give them some credit.

  5. During my time in elementary school, which was well over 10 years ago (crazy), I was always taught around “Christopher Columbus Day” that he was famous for sailing the world, and discovered that the world was round, and people at the time thought it was flat. Which I thought was cool at the time. I didn’t know what he actually did until high school. Which I think is really atrocious. I would rather not be “taught” at all if what I was learning was lies. I didn’t even know until NOW that Indigenous Peoples’ Day began in 1989. I haven’t even heard of it until, at the most, these past 3 years. Considering that on most (if not all) calendars and planners STILL say “Columbus Day.” In fact, after reading this article, I checked my 2 of my current planners, and my nephew’s planner was given to him by his school, they all say “Columbus Day.” However, I’m glad that this topic is starting to be talked about, and more people are referring to it as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Columbus Day is outdated, and used for the wrong reasons because what they were teaching us was untrue. Originally, Columbus Day was used to celebrate Italian heritage because he was a Italian man, and at the time of migration from Italy, Italians were not wanted in America. They experienced prejudice, and Christopher Columbus became their “hero” that made them feel accepted. Therefore, I believe that if schools want to teach about Christopher Columbus, teach the truth. Not lies. Indigenous Peoples’ Day makes sense because they are the minority groups now, and when Columbus Day became a thing, Italians were the minority racial group.

  6. I think that when teaching, it is important to give the students an honest and unbiased version of history. While yes he had downsides, Christopher Columbus made important advancements that should not be disregarded. Being honest with our classes is something that teachers should strive for and expect.

  7. I never really understood celebrating Columbus Day honestly. I remember thinking as a kid that there were people in the world that were way better than Christopher Columbus, why didn’t we celebrate them? Christopher Columbus is still very much apart of our history. The discovery of the Caribbeans, South, and Central America was a huge deal for Spain! But that does not discount the immoral decisions he made. In high school, we did not talk a lot about Christopher Columbus, but he was always saw in a positive light. When teaching my students, it will be important to me to remain unbiased and teach the facts about that day. I also think it would be a good idea to educate the students on who classifies as an Indigenous person so they can appreciate this improved holiday!

  8. I like the idea of indigenous peoples day. It is a simple way of talking about the cultures that were here before the Europeans arrived. Celebrating this day is a great way of opening the discussion on what Christopher Columbus did in 1492.

  9. It is necessary to talk about the real legacy of Christopher Columbus, but it becomes more difficult the younger the students are. The perception of many parents is that Christopher Columbus never did anything wrong and discussing his full legacy is revisionist history. Up until high school, the fact that Christopher Columbus started and enabled slavery in the New World was unknown to me. It wasn’t until college that I learned of his personal writings that were derogatory towards natives in regard to their intelligence, worth, and religion. Some teachers try to counter this absence of truth by only talking about negative aspects of his legacy, but this also is biased. History is often complicated. I also feel that presenting all the evidence also is more receptive to parents who will like view a solely negative perspective as “revisionist history” in today’s environment. If the intent is to show the “facts” and not political opinions, we all benefit as people are more receptive to the truth and full scope of the legacy of Christopher Columbus. The indigenous people’s movement is also a great starting point for this discussion as they are the community whose society disappeared as a result of his exploration. Indigenous communities are much larger in South America. People often spray paint Columbus statues out of protest. It’s bizarre to us because the Native American population is so much smaller to us relative to the overall population.

  10. I love the idea of celebrating indigenous peoples’ day instead of Columbus day as they deserve recognition for their lives and tribute for years to come. I also agree that educators should teach about Christopher Columbus and his accomplishments but while doing so, should not omit the horrible monstrosities he caused on the indigenous peoples. This should be discussed as I know many people do not know the truth of Columbus as it is taught in school that he was simply a hero. The omission of such facts leaves a nation that spreads false information that sadly stems from the school system, this is a problem that needs to be fixed.

  11. I really could not agree more with this article. Honestly, I had never even heard of Indigenous Peoples’ Day until about a year or two ago. I think it is beyond CRUCIAL that we teach honest history to our students and that means we cannot ignore the significance that Christopher Columbus had on our world. But, teaching students the atrocities that he also committed is extremely important as well. The idea that we looked at Christopher Columbus as a hero for so many years is also important to history. The fact that he was idolized despite his injustice decisions, can help teach students the growth of our world on a moral level. Therefore, we should not completely hate on Columbus, or decide to pull him from every textbook, but instead teach Columbus from his many perspectives and teach about how we see him differently as the years go on.

    I think Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day should be a day that we celebrate and make an effort to understand both sides of the story. Understanding the good and bad sides of Columbus and understanding the suffering that he opposed on others is so important for students. I think this would be such a great day in the classroom to have students open up about their own opinions after reviewing both sides.

  12. When I was in school, Columbus day was a day off and also a time where teachers talked about how much of a hero Christopher Columbus was and it was not until I got older that I learned about the more grim and real side of how Christopher Columbus was and what he did to indigenous people. As educators, it is a disservice to continue to only teach students one side of history. It is important and just to tell both sides and introduce and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day because it recognizes both sides of the story. We cannot continue t ignore a side of history just because it makes the majority group look bad, we have to give the whole story to our students and allow them to form new opinions and ideas. I agree with everything this article said and I hope to be apart of the educators that give students the whole story of history and make every group’s voice and side heard and valued.

  13. I fully support the idea that a teacher needs to teach the full story and not just the parts that history books tell them to teach. In todays world I have a growing concern for the future of social studies as we continue to burn, tear down, and destroy the past. While this article really focuses on these two days, I feel that educators should be spending more than just a day to talk about these important people and what was contributed to the history we know currently. I feel that teachers need to discuss that was Columbus a explorer who helped move things into the western world that we know… yes. However it should be tied into the sacrifices, the violence, and the other situations that had to occur for that to take place.

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