Today is Columbus Day, one of those holidays that causes my kindergartener to be home playing video games instead of being at school (for some reason though, his Catholic school’s calendar is calling today a teacher in-service and not Columbus Day). But Columbus Day is one of the reasons many of us live in the United States – because, as the saying goes “In fourteen hundred and ninety two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!” – the day honors Christopher Columbus, the man tagged as the first European to sail to the Americas. Columbus’ true discovery of the New World has been under vicious scrutiny for as long as I can remember, with the number one argument being that Native Americans were the ones to discover it (thus the term Native Americans). Columbus Day began as an Italian-American heritage celebration in San Francisco in 1869. By 1937, it became a national holiday, and in 1971 the “official” date became the second Monday in October (pretty close to the actual day Columbus landed on October 12, 1492.
But I’d like to talk about the other side of Columbus Day, and that’s Native Americans’ Day, which is also today. Native Americans’ Day is celebrated in South Dakota, while a similarly named holiday – Indigenous People’s Day – is celebrated in Berkeley, California on the second Monday of October. In both regions, people celebrate the day by learning from educational resources which focus on the background, culture and traditions of Native Americans. The day is meant to celebrate the heritage of Native Americans and to unify native and non-native cultures. Native Americans’ Day became officially recognized in South Dakota in 1989 when the legislature there unanimously passed a bill to proclaim 1990 as the “Year of Reconciliation” for Native Americans and to change the name of Columbus Day in the state to Native American Day. In 1992, the people of Berkeley, California observed Indigenous People’s Day instead of Columbus Day and city officials dubbed the year the “Year of Indigenous People”.
Too often, people forget there were others on North American soil before Europeans. Don’t forget the next holiday that should pay homage to Native Americans before Europeans: Thanksgiving (it’s even in the name of the day thanks giving – giving thanks to those who helped us, and in the Pilgrims’ case, helped keep us alive).