What is Indigenous Peoples Day? More US cities replace Columbus Day to honor Native Americans

Activists argue that memorializing Columbus ignores the erasure of Native American history.

For more than 80 years, the United States has celebrated Columbus Day. However, the true history behind the man involves horrific violence. Historical record shows he mutilated Native Americans over 14. He would cut hands off them if they did not bring him enough gold. According to letters from Columbus' men, he also gave native women to his men to rape. Six states and several cities already do not recognize Columbus Day. Some have replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day.

More and more cities across the United States are celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day, a counter-holiday honoring the history and contributions of Native Americans.

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The word "indigenous" itself originates from the 1640s Latin word "indigena," meaning "sprung from the land."

According to the History Channel, Columbus Day — named for Italian explorer Christopher Columbus — officially became a federal holiday in 1937, "in order to place Catholic Italians, like Christopher Columbus, into American history."

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But activists argue that memorializing Columbus, who was credited for opening up the Americas for European colonization, ignores the erasure of Native American history.

"This historically problematic holiday — Columbus never actually set foot on the continental U.S. — has made an increasing number of people wince, given the enslavement and genocide of Native American people that followed in the wake of the Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria,"  Yvonne Zipp wrote for The Christian Science Monitor in 2014. "The neighborhood wasn't exactly empty when he arrived in 1492."

In fact, indigenous people had been living in the New World for centuries before Columbus arrived in 1492. And he wasn’t even the first European to make it there, either.

Talk of replacing Columbus Day with an alternative holiday dates back to the 1970s. But it wasn’t until after the First Continental Conference on 500 years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador in the 1990s that Berkeley, California, became the first American city to instate Indigenous Peoples Day in lieu of Columbus Day.

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"The purpose was to really affirm the incredible legacy of the indigenous people who were in the North American continent long before Columbus," California state senator Lori Hancock, mayor of Berkeley at the time, told Time Magazine in 2014.

Still, some Italian-Americans pushed back. In an op-ed for the New York Times last year, John M. Viola, president and chief operating officer of the National Italian American Foundation, argued that tearing down statues of Columbus, as many began advocating for, "also tears down my history."

“We just had to keep reiterating that that was not the purpose,” Hancock said about the concerns, according to Time.

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Dozens of U.S. cities have either scrapped Columbus Day and adopted Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Day since Berkeley’s decision to do so. Others celebrate both holidays.

And at least seven states don’t recognize Columbus Day at all: Alaska, Florida, Hawaii, Oregon, Minnesota, South Dakota and Vermont.

Georgia, as you can see, is not one of them. But in recent years, activists have pushed to replace the national holiday.

South Fulton officially joined the growing list of cities in July.

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In a press release, the City of South Fulton’s City Council said it would "recognize Native Americans, who were the first inhabitants of the land that later became the United States of America” by adopting Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Last year, Atlanta activist Sarah Rose, who successfully campaigned for the installment of permanent rainbow crosswalks in Midtown last June, hoped Atlanta would be the next big city to join. But despite gaining more than 20,000 supporters, the petition was unsuccessful.

The following cities have replaced Columbus Day with the new holiday:

  • Los Angeles
  • Berkeley, California
  • Santa Cruz, California
  • San Fernando, California
  • San Francisco
  • Burbank, California
  • Long Beach, California
  • San Luis Obispo, California
  • Watsonville, California
  • Seattle
  • Olympia, Washington
  • Spokane, Washington
  • Bainbridge Island, Washington
  • Minneapolis
  • Grand Rapids, Minnesota
  • St. Paul, Minnesota
  • Denver
  • Durango, Colorado
  • Boulder, Colorado
  • Phoenix
  • Ann Arbor, Michigan
  • Traverse City, Michigan
  • Alpena, Michigan
  • East Lansing, Michigan
  • Ypsilanti, Michigan
  • Albuquerque, New Mexico
  • Santa Fe
  • Cincinatti
  • Portland
  • Eugene, Oregon.
  • Newstead, New York
  • Ithaca, New York
  • Anadarko, Oklahoma
  • Norman, Oklahoma
  • Tulsa, Oklahoma
  • Tahlequah, Oklahoma
  • Carrboro, North Carolina
  • Asheville, North Carolina
  • Belfast, Maine
  • Bangor, Maine
  • Orono, Maine
  • Portland, Maine
  • Bexar County, Texas
  • Cambridge, Massachusetts
  • Amherst, Massachusetts
  • Northampton, Massachusetts
  • Harpers Ferry, West Virginia
  • Lawrence, Kansas
  • Davenport, Iowa
  • Durham, New Hampshire
  • Moscow, Idaho
  • Oberlin, Ohio
  • Columbus, Ohio
  • Salt Lake City
  • Austin, Texas
  • Nashville
  • Madison, Wisconsin
  • South Fulton

Cities celebrating both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples Day:

  • Village of Lewiston, New York
  • Brunswick, Maine

Did we miss a city? Let us know in the comments.