Growing up, I was told like many of you, that “He was the one who discovered America.” It took nearly two decades of my life to decipher the Columbus Day myth for what it was: a colonizer’s narrative born out of a stolen country steeped in genocide.
These are strong words, I know, but these types of myths of reality aren’t exactly foreign to the American people. In recent years, varying states have worked to decolonize their reputation, metaphorically that is, by changing the title of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, traditionally celebrated each year on October 11 or 12 since becoming an official national holiday in 1971. Native American Day was first considered at the United Nations conference in 1977, though South Dakota became the first state to adopt the September holiday over a decade later. Today, the observance of Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day varies from state to state and in some cases, city to city.
Both Lewiston and Tompkins county in New York celebrate both Columbus Day as well as Indigenous Peoples’ Day whereas in Akron, Ohio Indigenous Peoples’ Day is celebrated on the first Monday in October with Columbus Day having been renamed, “Italian-American Heritage and Culture Day.” Alternatively, whole states have renamed the holiday, such as California, Alaska, New Mexico, and several more. But among that list, you will find no mention of Montana which is troubling given that there are at least twelve federally recognized tribal nations existing within state lines, marking Montana as having the fifth highest Native American population in the country (8.00%), according to the 2021 World Population Review.
I see no sentimental reason for keeping with Columbus Day, at least for Montana, considering Christopher Columbus, the infamously misguided explorer and part-time murderer, never visited this region himself or added to its luster in his 55 years of life. Columbus did, however, enslave countless Indigenous Americans and order their dismembered bodies to be paraded through the streets. You don’t need to take my word for it. The articles are out there in droves.
I think we can all agree that his actions are barbaric to say the least. So why do we still dedicate an entire day to such a figure in our “civilized” age of movements like MMIWC2S Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women and Children? People argue that we should keep Columbus Day for the sake of remembrance. We must know where we came from so we know where we might hope to go. I believe this to be true and valuable for America and its progression into a new age of awakening and tolerance. But there is a vital difference between remembrance and celebration.
Let’s look at what is being remembered; the G-rated version of our nation’s history or the devastating events that took place on this land? Either way, I believe it to be in our country’s best interest, as far as our social and political future is concerned, to honor the tribes and their traditions. As we look at this fall holiday and who we are honoring with it, let’s make sure that we are focusing on the right people to recognize.