On Monday in the nation’s capital, there is no Columbus Day. The D.C. Council voted to replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day in a temporary move that it hopes will become permanent. They are not alone, several other places across the United States have also made the switch in a growing movement to end the celebration of the Italian explorer in favor of honoring Indigenous communities.
Baley Champagne is responsible for that change in her home state of Louisiana. The tribal citizen of the United Houma Nation petitioned the governor, John Bel Edwards, to change the day. He did, along with several other states this year.
“It’s become a trend,” Champagne said. “It’s about celebrating people instead of thinking about somebody who actually caused genocide on a population or tried to cause the genocide of an entire population. By bringing 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 wants it to be “a celebration and to bring acknowledgment to the Native population,” Champagne said. “You know, because we have many friends of all different races in this area and Houma is named after the Houma people, the Houma Choctaw. So to bring this, I think it’s long overdue. It’s a big celebration. And we’re just so excited to have this finally.”
For Native Americans, Columbus Day has been hurtful. It promotes the violent history of 500 years of colonial oppression at the hands of European explorers and those who settled here. — a history whose ramifications and wounds still run deep today.
“Today we understand that while [Columbus] was an explorer and is 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,” said Shannon Speed, a citizen of the Chickasaw Nation and director of the UCLA American Indian Studies Center. “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. That’s not something anyone wants to celebrate.”