This post is the newest in our blog series about diversity, equity, and inclusion. These posts are written by staff on our Equity Committee and originally shared internally. We're sharing them publicly to be transparent about our internal dialogue, reflections and learning process as we work on being an anti-racist organization.
If you look at a calendar, you will likely see today noted as Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day and you may be wondering, which is it? Columbus Day is one of the 10 official federal holidays; this means that if you work for the federal government or an institution that observes all federal holidays, you get the day off with pay. For the rest of us, the holiday is defined based on where you live. Let us explore the history and debate around this day and make a call to action in support of Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
This morning, the White House proclaimed today Columbus Day, consistent with a joint resolution passed by Congress in 1934 that requests the President to proclaim the second Monday of each October as Columbus Day in recognition of the “discovery of America.” Many Americans recognize Columbus Day as a celebration of the exploration and discovery of our nation. Some Italian Americans recognize Columbus Day as a celebration of their Italian heritage. However, there are others who do not agree with observing Columbus Day and argue that we should observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day (or some variant thereof). Their argument is that Christopher Columbus did not “discover” our nation; Indigenous Peoples had lived here for at least 20,000 years. Furthermore, Columbus and his party were responsible for the rape and killing of Indigenous Peoples and for stealing their land (which we occupy today).
The first time concerns about Columbus Day were shared broadly on the international stage was at the United Nations Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas in 1977. At that time, Indigenous Peoples requested “to observe October 12, the day of so-called ‘discovery’ of America, as an international day of solidarity with the indigenous people of the Americas.”
In 1989, South Dakota was the first state to fulfill that request when they proclaimed the second Monday of each October as Native Americans’ Day. A few years later, Berkeley, California became the first city in the United States to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Since then, over a hundred cities and 13 additional states plus the District of Columbia have either abolished Columbus Day in favor of a holiday celebrating Indigenous Peoples or recognize the day as both Columbus Day and a holiday recognizing Indigenous Peoples. Two additional states, California and Tennessee, recognize Native Americans’ Day in September of each year. Despite seven cities in Washington State, including Seattle, declaring the holiday Indigenous Peoples’ Day, Washington State has yet to do so.
Call to action! Bellwether’s Equity Committee supports the state proclaiming the second Monday of each October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Although symbolic, this change is meaningful in that it brings attention to the false narrative of Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day, it recognizes that Indigenous People rightfully claim this land as their own, and it acknowledges the trauma imposed upon Indigenous Peoples by European settlers. We encourage you to join us and call upon Governor Inslee to proclaim the second Monday of each October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day by signing this petition.