Columbus Day is a National Travesty


Today should not be a national holiday. 

Today the owner of a sports team called the Redskins still justifies himself when so many people rightly ask him to change the name. Today indigenous women in Mexico are denied health care and forced to give birth outside of clinics. Today indigenous people in Brazil watch their lands get developed out from under them. Today it is a big deal for a Native American woman to even be nominated to the U.S. federal court.

Columbus Day is a celebration of the genocide and subsequent marginalization of Native Americans over the past 500 years. It commemorates what mainstream history has called Columbus' "discovery" of the Americas, based on the fallacy that it was his arrival that marked the beginning of that history. But there were plenty of people living on this continent before Columbus — and today we're screwing them over.

Our government has slowly pushed Native Americans off of their land and onto reservations where they are systematically excluded from accessing the same resources that other U.S. citizens do. As of 2010, over a quarter of Native Americans were living below the poverty line, either compounded or caused by other structural factors. For example, the Bureau of Indian Education, which isthe primary source of schooling for many Native Americans, has a 58% high school graduation rate. Native American women are 2.5 times more likely to be raped than other women in the U.S., and indigenous populations around the world are slowly losing their rights to the few natural resources that they still own. 

This is the legacy of Columbus Day. Does it sound like something worth celebrating to you?

Some critics of the holiday have elected to change its name to Indigenous People's Day, or Native American Day. The states of South Dakota, Hawaii, and Alaska have already legalized the name change, and California currently has a bill in committee to call the second Monday of October "Native American Day," and reinstate its status as a paid holiday.

Surprisingly, the holiday's roots lies not in ignorant patriotism on the part of white Americans, but rather within the Italian-American community, who saw this day as an opportunity to celebrate their own contributions to this country. Some Italian Americans argue that Columbus Day is the only holiday they have.

I get it, but is that really who you want representing your contributions to this country? Surely not.

That being said, I have to agree with opponents of the name change on one point: The second Monday in October should not be called Native American Day. It should not be a holiday at all. 

To be certain, the change is a step in the right direction. But Native Americans deserve a day that does not focus on them as victims. Native Americans deserve a day to celebrate their strengths, accomplishments, and their contributions to the Americas, which have been immeasurable. It is thanks to Native Americans that we have aspirin, quinine, and honey. Our governing structure of representative democracy has roots in the Iroquois tribe, and we would not have the zero were it not for the Maya.

We should celebrate the resilience and history of the people who've been subjugated by Christopher Columbus and the destruction that followed in his wake, not celebrate Columbus himself. It's really the least we can do.

 

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Juliana Schwartz

Juliana is a Brazilian-American blogger whose work focuses on feminism as it affects Latinas in the U.S. and in Latin America. This means that she talks about immigration, reproductive justice, labor and race, a lot. She writes on her own blog, LatinaFeminista.com, as well as at Feministing.com, where she is a Contributor.

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