Friday, October 5, 2018

Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples' Day?

This coming Monday, October 8, is Columbus Day, a federal holiday in the United States. However, only about half of the states observe that day, and four states as well as many cities celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
The Issue
Columbus Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1792, and 100 years later President Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Columbus’s voyage to the “new world.”
Then in 1937 President Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day as a national holiday, largely as a result of lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, the Roman Catholic fraternal service organization that was founded in 1882 and named in honor of Christopher Columbus.
In recent decades, though, there has been growing opposition to Columbus’s undeniable connection to the oppression of indigenous peoples and the beginnings of the transatlantic slave trade.
Beginning in 1992 (in Berkeley, Calif.), an increasing number of cities—as well as the states of Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota—now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the place of Columbus Day. (In S.D., though, the day is called Native American Day.)
So, which holiday should be celebrated next Monday?  
The Issue Intensified
There are those who see the mistreatment of indigenous people and slavery as two aspects of “America’s original sin,” in the title words of Jim Wallis’s 2016 book.
Wallis asserts that “the near genocide and historic oppression of America’s Native American peoples and the enslavement and debasing of African peoples for profit were both sins—America’s original sin” (p. 57).
True, the activity of Columbus in the last part of the 15th century may not be directly related to what happened in British North America beginning in the first part of the 17th century—but the latter is definitely rooted in the ethos of Columbus with regards to both the treatment of indigenous people and the enslaving of both people of the new world as well as of Africa.
In a previous blog article (see here) I introduced Miguel De La Torre, an acquaintance for whom I have great respect, even though I sometimes disagree with him. One of the most challenging books I have read in many years is his book Embracing Hopelessness (2017).
In the Introduction, De La Torre makes this hard-hitting assertion:
Christians are behind all of this nation’s atrocities—the genocide of the indigenous people to steal their land, the enslavement of Africans to work the stolen land, and the stealing of cheap labor and natural resources of Latin Americans under the guise of “gunboat diplomacy” to develop the land (p. 4). 
Then in his second chapter De La Torre writes compellingly about his visit to the site of the 1864 Sand Creek Massacre in Colorado. That tragic event was under the direction of U.S. Army Colonel John Chivington—while the Civil War was still being fought!
(When Chivington, 1821~94, was a young man, he was ordained to the Christian ministry and even served briefly as a missionary to the Wyandot Indians in Kansas—of particular interest to June and me since our church is in Wyandotte County.)
Responding to the Issue
Reading De La Torre’s chapter about the Sand Creek Massacre strengthened my resolve to push for the observance of Indigenous People’s Day in the U.S. on the second Monday of October from now on. 
People of goodwill need to work diligently to rid society of the highly detrimental results of America’s original sin, striving to combat the evil effects of white supremacy both with regard to the indigenous people of North America as well as to those who are the descendants of enslaved Africans.


  1. First, the good news, there is already a United Nations International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples, every year after 1992 on August 9. Also, on October 12, 1992 the Nobel Peace Prize went to Guatemalan activist, spoiling the 500th anniversary of Columbus for Spain and the Catholic Church. You can read about that in "An Indigenous People's History of the United States" by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, page 198. For a look at the current International Day, see this link:

    Having an American Indigenous People's Day to replace Columbus Day would probably be harder than removing Confederate statues. Indeed, the original hope for the UN day was for October, but somehow Columbus bumped it to August. Perhaps a better route would be to have Uncle Sam swap out Columbus Day for Election Day or even the day after Thanksgiving. An informal version of Columbus Day would probably survive as an Italian community pride day, but this would lower its profile for issues of genocide and slavery.

    San Francisco recently removed a disturbing original settlement statue from downtown, leading those there to wonder what sort of more sensitive monument should replace it. America has a lot to review and repent, and that has never been our strong suit. Saint Patrick's Day in Ireland is such a quiet day, although you would never guess that based on what America has done with it. To paraphrase our newest Supreme Court Judge, "We like green beer!" Repentance, not so much. To read more about the removal of San Francisco's statue, read here:

    1. Thanks, Craig, for your substantial comments.

      I learned about the United Nations International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples when I was working on this article but was unable to mention it because of my self-imposed 600-word limit. Have you ever heard mention of that day on Aug. 9? As far as I can recall, I never have.

      I did not know about the offensive statue in California, and I appreciate you sharing that with me and others readers of this blog.

    2. I just ran across a current expression of Indigenous Peoples Day. It focused on the tradition of "acknowledging" peoples and lands at the start of events as a way of creating a peaceful experience. See this link, and note the video embedded in it:

  2. Local Thinking Friend Vern Barnet shares these comments:

    "The year 1492 is infamous in world religious history. On both sides of the Atlantic, Christianity does not look good. Columbus led to the genocide of first nations here and the Reconquista, ended eight centuries of Muslim rule on the Iberian Peninsula, 'the ornament of the world,' with the Christians forcing conversions, levying oppressive taxes, confiscating property, and expelling and executing Muslims and Jews, and the expansion of the Spanish Inquisition. The Edict of Expulsion was issued March 31, 1492, effective later that year, and not revoked until 1968. Sometimes, in such contexts, I am embarrassed to call myself a Christian."

    1. Thanks, Vern, for your important comments.

      Yes, 1492 was not a good year for the indigenous people of the "new world" or for the Jewish people in the "old world" country of Spain.

      Perhaps the events of the 15th century are not quite as embarrassing to those of us who are in Christian denominations that started in the 16th century as Catholics, but, yes, I share your embarrassment with much that has been done throughout world history in the name of Jesus.

  3. Here is the bulk of the comments sent by email from Thinking Friend Truett Baker in Arizona:

    "If the early indigenous abuse matter was America's 'first sin,' then the death of truth is America's present sin. You may have referred me to Michiko Kakutani's book, 'The Death of Truth,' but I'm not sure. I highly recommend it! The author, a former prize winning literary critic and chief book critic for the New York Times, describes the chaotic moral decline and demise of truth in our federal government that exist today. It is frighting. If God ignores what is happening in our government today, He owes Sodom and Gomorrah an apology. It sickens me to see how our leaders seem not to care or have the stomach to stand against it."

  4. Thanks, Truett, for your comments about "America's present sin." Yes, I introduced, and recommended, Kakutani's book in my Aug. 5 blog article, and I am glad you were able to read it--and I certainly wish it were more widely read and taken seriously by more people.

  5. Tomorrow is Leif Erikson Day. He came over during the last great era of global warming - when Greenland really was green for a few hundred years.