Is It Still Columbus Day?

We all know that Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer, sailed across the ocean in 1492 on a quest to find a new route to Asia. Instead, he landed in the Bahamas and discovered America--sort of.

Columbus Day is now more regarded as a three day weekend, the landmark for college students to head home, and mostly just a Monday off; but should this be changed to have more meaning?

Celebrations of Columbus originated in New York as a celebration of Italian heritage and Catholicism. It wasn’t until the late 1930s that Columbus Day was declared a national holiday by FDR, resulting from pressure from the Knights of Columbus. It was originally boycotted for its celebration of Catholicism, but views have shifted to center on America’s Indigenous population.

Columbus wasn’t exactly what one would consider kind to the native peoples he met. In fact, he immediately took slaves upon arrival in the Bahamas and started the first of many genocides that our indigenous population has faced. Columbus and his men brought with them smallpoxs and many other European diseases that decimated the population by the millions. He was fond of using torture and violence against the native peoples and instituted slavery.

The effects of Columbus’s actions and European colonization are still being felt by indigenous communities today. 1 in 4 Native Americans live below the poverty line. Approximately, two-thirds of majority indigenous communities in America have unemployment rates above the national average of 4.1%. Also, indigenous peoples’ aged 18 to 24 have higher suicide rates than any other ethnicity.

And that’s just in America. First Nation folk in Canada have less access to the country’s health system than other populations and constantly live under the threat of powerful corporations possibly mining their land. There are also a high number of unsolved cases involving Aboriginal women going missing or being murdered.

While simply renaming the day won’t ameliorate these issues, it’s a step in the right direction. It symbolizes us acknowledging the atrocities our country has committed and trying to move forward. It’s also a way to reclaim some power for a community who has been oppressed throughout history and still are to this day.

It’s important for people in positions of privilege to work to elevate the voices of those who aren’t typically heard. In doing so, we can spread greater awareness of issues plaguing marginalized communities and begin to take the steps to solve them.