It took Christopher Columbus about nine weeks to reach the New World from Spain — and his critics more than half a century to start convincing US cities to ditch the holiday honoring the moment.
In 1992, Berkeley, Calif., became the first city to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day — and now, nearly 30 years later, there are more than 130 cities and 15 states that have either followed suit or chosen to mark both.
“It’s become a trend,” said Baley Champagne, a tribal citizen of the United Houma Nation, to NPR last year, after successfully lobbying Louisiana’s governor to make the switch to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
We’re bringing awareness that we’re not going to allow someone like that to be glorified into a hero because of the hurt that he caused to indigenous people of America,’’ she said of Columbus. “I think it’s long overdue.’’
Shannon Speed, a Chickasaw Nation citizen and director of UCLA’s American Indian Studies Center, was more blunt to the outlet.
“Today we understand that while [Columbus] was an explorer and credited with being one of the first Europeans to arrive in the Americas, we now know a great deal about the history and the way that he and his people behaved when they came to this continent — which included pillaging, raping and generally setting in motion a genocide of the people who were already here.
“That’s not something we want to celebrate,” she said. “That’s not something anyone wants to celebrate.”
When President Franklin D. Roosevelt made Columbus Day a federal holiday in 1934, it’s likely he had no idea the controversy he would create.
The annual holiday was set for the second Monday in October, traditionally feted with parades largely organized by Italian American groups.
But indigenous people — furious at seeing the Italian explorer elevated to hero status while representing the brutal European conquering of their ancestors — fought back against the holiday.