Forum

Indigenous Peoples Day to take Columbus Day's place

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The shift from “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” is not new. California proposed this change in 1939, and officially implemented it in 1998. Today, eight states have officially adopted Indigenous Peoples Day in lieu of Columbus Day. Although we are far from fully addressing the atrocities Native Americans historically faced and how they are still affected by policies today, changing the focus of the holiday is a significant start in initiating the dialogue around justice for the Native American population in the States.

"For us to celebrate a man who’s done these horrible atrocities against indigenous people, to me, it’s a slap in the face... It’s wrong to spread false narratives of what actually happened. We have to start telling the truth, even in our schools," activist Anthony Tamez-Pochel told USA Today. Tamez-Pochel, who is Cree, Lakota, and Black, is leading the initiative to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in Chicago. Currently, he is co-president of the Chi-Nations Youth Council, an organization that supports indigenous youth.

I understand the appeal of making our school curriculum more palatable by sugarcoating history and censoring literature that challenges us outside our comfort zones. It’s difficult and embarrassing to address the faults of one’s own history. However, it’s just as imperative that we teach our students accurate representations of history so that they can better understand how past actions affect contemporary issues. By teaching our youth to skirt around topics that may be uncomfortable, we are allowing the repercussions of our past to manifest into our present.

In this past midterm election, North Dakota’s voter suppression laws disproportionately affected Native American voters from voting. By requiring voters to have a residential address, those who lived on reservations found themselves suddenly not eligible to vote. Native American voter turnout remains to be significantly lower than other racial groups lower than other racial groups. With the 2020 presidential election looming over us, it’s even more pressing that we ensure that an already marginalized demographic get the opportunity to be at least somewhat represented.

Nobody sane will argue that changing “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” will undo generations worth of oppression. However, it has the potential to start a conversation on the ongoing consequences of the actions that Columbus contributed to. In order to begin fixing a problem, we must be able to address the problem. Dedicating a day to an affected minority rather than one of the most iconic suppressors is a start.