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

3 Comments

  1. 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.

  2. 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.

  3. 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.

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