Colonizing DU: Columbus or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

 

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Flyer courtesy of transformcolumbusday.org

To many Americans, Columbus Day isn’t much more than it’s textbook definition — the day that Christopher Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” discovered The New World and we get a day off for it. It’s learned this way, advertised this way and celebrated this way by many people because this is the version we heard in school for generations.  But as it turns out, textbooks don’t always tell the entire truth.

A quick Google search or visit to history.com will reveal all of Columbus’s controversies such as the enslavement, torture, rape and genocide of hundreds of thousands of Indigenous Peoples.  

To many Native Americans the existence of the holiday itself is an insult, celebrating ideologies and people that oppressed them. These controversies have created an uproar in response to the way Columbus viewed by Americans and taught in school .

Mackenzie Foster, a senior at the University of Denver said that the version she learned was a version of “white-washing”: the glossing over or covering up of scandals and crimes by white people through biased presentation.

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What were you taught about Columbus in school?  “When I was in elementary school, Christopher Columbus was a hero and someone to look up to. They try to sugar-coat it when you’re growing up. I feel like they’re just trying to get a sense of nationalism in their students.” Mac Foster, 21, University of Denver Senior. Sturm Hall, University of Denver, October 2016. [Photo by Kat Weaver]

In fact, there is evidence of early settlements by vikings and Native Americans in the areas that Columbus DID “discover” which was in fact, not North America but Haiti and the Dominican Republic. Some historians feel that Columbus didn’t discover the Americas, he just paved the way for it to be colonized while wiping out Natives in the process.

Many Native Americans have protested or moved to abolish Columbus Day. So far, 9 cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day — most recently Denver, Colorado, one of the birthplaces of the celebration. 

Ironically named the “Pioneers,” some University of Denver students don’t believe that Columbus Day is a big issue among Natives or aren’t really concerned with the holiday. While Denver has already replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples day, some say that it was never that important to begin with.

“I was never really taught that Columbus Day was important. When I think about Columbus Day, I don’t think, ‘wow, what a disgrace to Native people,’ but I think that if you are a Native person, that is something that would come into your mind,” said sophomore Madie Sweet.

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How should Columbus Day be celebrated, if celebrated at all?                                       “It was always kind of brushed over as this holiday about our nation being founded, when in reality it’s much darker than that. We need to be more aware of what he was actually like and that he’s not some national hero.” Isabel Clarke, 19, University of Denver Sophomore. Nelson Hall, University of Denver, October 2016. [Photo by Kat Weaver]

However, many students at the University of Denver believe that the holiday should be abolished in every state.

The DU Native Student Alliance has been very active and vocal about Native American rights and representation on campus. They organize a celebration for Indigenous Peoples’ Day every year, host powwows and most recently protested the Dakota Access Pipeline in downtown Denver.

Foster believes, “If it is a holiday, it should be Indigenous Peoples’ Day because I truly feel that you should pay your respect to those people and how much they originally suffered. I’d much rather think about that than some douchebag who sailed to a continent and claimed it was his.”

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Does this holiday have any implications on how we treat Native Americans? “The United States still doesn’t take Native rights into account. I feel like the holiday just hurts Natives instead of celebrating something important.” Kath Bald, 19, University of Denver Sophomore. Nagel Hall, University of Denver, October 2016. [Photo by Kat Weaver

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4 thoughts on “Colonizing DU: Columbus or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

  1. I think that this story is a perfect choice for our localization segment because it is relevant and important, especially on the DU campus. I think you did a really nice job of incorporating the students’ opinions and reasoning into the body of your piece.

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  2. I really appreciate this story because a good number of my friends are Native Americans here at DU. I think it’s interesting how Columbus Day isn’t really a big deal to a lot of us, it’s just a day where we get off from school. However, whenever people try and take away “Columbus Day,” you have a good number of people who are against it because they claim it’s “un-American.” But what they don’t think about is that it was also “un-American” to kill and rape numerous Native tribes. Columbus used a map to find the Americas, you can’t discover something that is already on a map. Native Americans were forced out of their homes, beaten, killed, and raped. That’s almost like someone walking into your home and taking it over and claiming they found your living room. It’s not fair and I understand the frustration from the Native students here at DU. Great story.

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  3. This is a great story! I feel like Native American students on campus and organizations supporting them such as the Native Student Alliance do a good job of shifting the attention away from Columbus and on to indigenous peoples, so too see people outside of those groups supporting that and the discussion and around it is fantastic!

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  4. Hi Kat,

    Really interesting article. You did a good job of outlining an issue that isn’t really discussed, as you pointed out. What’s also interesting is that from the people you talked to, it seems like people generally are on board with Indigenous People’s Day. That seems to be the case when I talk to people as well. The problem, it seems, is that it just isn’t discussed. I think is largely as due to the fact that people aren’t really attached to Christopher Columbus. He’s discussed as historical figure but nobody really celebrates the “holiday”, not many people even get it off school/work. It’s hard to deny all the awful thing Columbus wrought and people aren’t necessarily fond of him anyway, which is why Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a good idea to me.

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