Columbus Day is a holiday observed in many parts of the United States. It commemorates the arrival of Italian navigator Christopher Columbus to the New World in 1492. This event is considered to be the beginning of European colonization of the Americas. As a result of Columbus’ arrival, Europeans and natives began to interact with each other, leading to violent conflicts, forced assimilation, and the introduction of new diseases.
Several European nations sent explorers to the Americas, including the Dutch, English, French, and Portuguese. These settlers, or “colonizers,” brought new diseases to the indigenous people, which in turn had dramatic long-term effects on the tribes. They also enslaved many of the tribes. Many natives were killed, and a large number of their villages were destroyed. In fact, the population of the Greater Antilles and the Bahamas fell from an estimated million people in the years prior to Columbus’s arrival to approximately 500 in 50 years.
After Columbus’s arrival, the settlers continued to exploit and colonize the natives. This led to the forced assimilation of the natives into Christianity. The Spanish missionary Bartolome de Las Casas was an outspoken critic of the European treatment of the natives. He described the Europeans killing the natives on a “vast scale.” Eventually, the population of the indigenous people decreased to an estimated 5,000.
Although the indigenous people were not the first inhabitants of the American continents, they have lived here for thousands of years. Their presence has been a constant source of conflict and resistance. Traditionally, they are credited as the “discoverers of America.” However, Columbus is not considered to be one of the earliest explorers to reach the continent. Some believe that Viking sailors reached Newfoundland, Canada, around 1000 AD. Other sources claim that Leif Erikson was the first to reach the continent.
In order to address the negative impacts of Columbus’s arrival, the International Conference on Discrimination against Indigenous Populations in the Americas was held by the United Nations in 1977. At this conference, the Indigenous people of the Americas proposed that Columbus Day be replaced by a celebration of their resilience and independence. This proposal was supported by left-wing groups. Ultimately, President Joe Biden issued a presidential proclamation acknowledging Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Since the 1970s, the general public has begun to critically examine the history of Columbus’s life and legacy. This has led to a shift in the way that the holiday is celebrated. Most of the US celebrates Columbus Day on the second Monday in October, while many Latin American countries observe Dia de la Raza, or “Day of the Race.” One city has even renamed its holiday, replacing it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
In 1991, the City of Berkeley, California, became the first in the nation to officially rename Columbus Day. The council declared October 12 as a day of solidarity with the indigenous people of the region. Later that year, several other states followed the lead of the City of Berkeley and adopted a similar policy.