What to do with Columbus Day…

3 minute read

October 29, 2019, 10:25 AM

As the Columbus Day holiday rolled around again this year, we got the usual rounds of people who called the day “Indigenous People’s Day” and denounced Christopher Columbus.  This year, the District of Columbia passed short-term legislation declaring the day by the newer name.  My feelings on the matter have a surprising amount of nuance to them.  But first, let’s make no mistake about it: Christopher Columbus was no saint. From what I’ve read, he enslaved a lot of native people, and killed a whole lot of them as well, both through violence and disease.  For those not familiar, the form that this recognition typically takes is that people and organizations eschew the use of the term “Columbus Day”, referring to it as “Indigenous People’s Day” instead.

However, I take issue with the form that this recognition of Columbus’ being less than worthy of the honor of a holiday typically takes.  The reason that I don’t like this way of doing things is because it takes the holiday away from one entity and gives it to another entity, treating it as a single either/or issue, rather than treating the declaration of a holiday in honor of an individual or entity as one issue, and treating the removal of a different holiday as its own issue.  I also feel that it cheapens the new entity being honored because it makes it seem as though they are a substitute honoree, rather than something worth honoring in their own right.  The direct swap also feels too much like overt political correctness, which grates on me.  That said, I have no problem with the idea of having an “Indigenous People’s Day” holiday, but doing it as a title swap on the Columbus Day date goes about it all wrong.

I defended my ideas on a recent post on WHSV-TV’s Facebook page (the ABC affiliate from Harrisonburg), on a post running an article about Richmond’s recognizing the holiday under the new name.  The comments on WHSV’s Facebook page are typically garbage from very ignorant people, but you do get the occasional intelligent thread in the sea of garbage responses, and this was that latter case.

This was the conversation:

Discussion of the Columbus Day holiday on WHSV's page

In other words, if we’re going to have an Indigenous People’s Day, make it a brand new holiday, and don’t make it a substitute for Columbus because the real Columbus was not the same as the legend that we learned in school.  If they’re worth honoring, they should be worth honoring in their own right, and not simply as a swap-out.  In other words, don’t use it as a protest against Columbus.  That brings up the idea of whether it’s driven by an actual belief that indigenous people are worthy of the honor, or whether it’s more about a dislike of Columbus, and it is intended more as a slight to him, and therefore not really about indigenous people at all.  On that latter part, though, it’s worth noting that Columbus has been dead for more than 500 years.  I guarantee you that he does not care anymore.

Canada, meanwhile, has an Indigenous People’s Day.  They celebrate National Indigenous Peoples Day in June, and its origins date back to 1945, with the holiday taking its current form in the nineties, and taking its current name in 2017.  We should do similarly, creating a holiday in a month where there is currently no federal holiday, and making it into a recognition of the indigenous cultures that help make up the America that we know today.  That is definitely worth celebrating.

Then there’s the other matter of cancelling Columbus Day.  It’s doable, but likely would need a very solidly Democratic Congress to do, and have a Democrat in the White House as well.  In other words, don’t hold your breath while the GOP still holds the Senate and the White House.