It started in 1992, when the city of Berkeley, California formally recognized the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. Cities all over the country slowly followed Berkeley’s example with the most recent and biggest city to make the change being Los Angeles in August 2017.
Many people are upset with the name change. They say that renaming the holiday is erasing an important part of our country’s history, and that we should be commemorating Christopher Columbus regardless of his morality from a contemporary perspective. It’s the same debate that’s going on right now about Confederate and slave-owner monuments. Do “bad people” who did important things still deserve to be honored?
The thing with both of these situations, is that we’re not just remembering history. There’s a big difference between commemoration and glorification of history, and making an entire holiday for a historical figure is definitely the latter. Even if you ignore the fact that Columbus didn’t really “discover America,” he was a genocidal invader whose so-called discovery led to the oppression of indigenous people. He personally oversaw the torture and killings of native people on the Spanish island colony of Hispaniola. These aren’t values we should be celebrating.
Instead of holding a holiday in celebration of Columbus, we should remember his accomplishments by teaching about it in history class. Instead of glorifying his actions, we should acknowledge the good and bad parts of his history in a more neutral environment. It’s not a black and white issue. If we stop glorifying “bad people,” that doesn’t necessarily mean we are completely forgetting important historical events.
Most cities that stop celebrating Columbus Day replace it with a holiday in honor of indigenous people’s history. Columbus, and imperialist conquerors like him, are a big part of that history, even if they’re not pleasant parts, and they should be acknowledged. Replacing Columbus Day doesn’t mean erasing his role in history, it just means accepting that his role wasn’t as bright and positive as having his own holiday suggests.