Celebrating and Honoring the History of Indigneous Peoples While Acknowledging the Disruptions to their Life, Legacy, and Culture
By BAIS High School Students: Adesewa Adefarakan, Aidan McCarthy, Amat Ceesay, Boston Karesvaara, Halimah Mendes, Jan Sambou Llopart, Jason Weerakkody, Rama Ceesay, William Hand
Fajara, The Gambia There’s a great division in how Americans view the second Monday of October. The question of celebrating “Columbus Day” versus “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” reflects people’s stance on what it really means to have “discovered” America. Before Columbus had accidentally landed on American shores, millions of natives had already lived on the continent for several centuries, developing rich, distinct, and complex civilizations across what became known as America. Columbus was a talented sailor, and after much convincing, he was able to persuade the Spanish monarchs to give him three ships. On October 12, 1492, he and his crew set their eyes on Hispaniola…becoming both his worst failure and biggest achievement.
Columbus Day is a U.S. holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus’ arrival in the New World on October 12, 1492. Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy, and over the years, Italian Americans increasingly picked up the cause of acknowledging his accomplishments. This sense of pride for Italian-Americans is one of the main reasons for the celebration of this day.
Native Americans and other organizations have criticized the commemoration of an event that culminated in the colonization of the Americas, the start of the transatlantic slave trade, and the deaths of millions of people due to murder and disease. To halt the celebration of the Italian explorer in favor of recognizing Indigenous Peoples and their tenacity in the face of oppression is what seems right; celebrating their bravery and courage to stand through it all. Baley Champagne of the United Houma Nation, petitioned her Governor, John Bel Edwards, to change the holiday, and he did as she asked. Ms Champagne once said:
“We’re drawing light to the fact that we’re not going to allow someone like that to be made into a hero because of the harm he caused to Indigenous peoples in America by establishing Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” – Baley Champagne,
As part of our studies in our U.S. History class we held a mock trial for Christopher Colombus and those who supported his voyage. In the mock trial, the king and queen of Spain, Christopher Columbus and his men, and the Indigenous People were tried by a jury of The People. Blame was assigned to all groups except the Indigenous People.
Indigenous Peoples are as much a part of America as any other ethnicity, however they have been pushed to the side, oppressed, and ignored for the most part for the past few hundred years. Indigenous Peoples have contributed so much to the U.S. and have done a lot for the country, but these contributions are often disregarded. Indigenous Peoples’ history and culture is not taught in schools and their resilience and perseverance in the face of oppression is rarely celebrated in America. By making Indigenous Peoples’ Day a holiday, it shows that America cares about its Indigenous community and acknowledges and regrets the atrocities it committed against Indegenous Peoples. It shows the value of the Indigenous community and celebrates and teaches others the Indigenous Peoples’ history, culture, and accomplishments. Proving that they are an integral part of America and that their story is more than the oppression they suffered― and are still suffering— while also acknowledging that oppression and hopefully taking steps to repair it.
Indigenous Peoples have unique cultural beliefs and practices which, historically, haved included Mayan stone structures like the double chambered vessel used to express scenes of daily life and rituals of the Maya; Incan architecture like the sun temple used as to pay tribute and give offerings to the sun inside Machu Picchu; and potlatch ceremonies held amongst the Kwakiutl.
From the Indian Removal Act to the dedication of a federal holiday celebrating Indigenous Peoples is progress that cannot be overlooked. However, celebrating and commemorating the myriad peoples on a single day will not rid them of the various problems Indigenous Peoples still endure. As a society, we must use Indigenous Peoples’ Day as a tool to learn more about the important life, legacy, and culture of Indigenous Peoples in the United States.