Colorado became the first state in the country to recognize Columbus Day as an annual holiday, but now, over 100 years later, Colorado Rep. Joe Salazar is offering legislation to change the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
“Colorado is following a number of cities throughout the nation that have decided to celebrate the Indigenous people of this land and NOT the colonization of this country,” Irene Vernon, chair of CSU’s ethnic studies department, wrote in an email to the Collegian.
Denver became the ninth city to make that change last October with a one-day proclamation that stated “Colorado encompasses the ancestral homeland of 48 tribes and currently the City and County of Denver and the surrounding communities are home home to the descendants of approximately 100 tribal nations.”
“I support what Rep. Salazar is doing at the state level,” said Ty Smith, director of CSU’s Native American Cultural Center. “The recognition of the Native people on this continent is important because we’ve been overlooked for so long.”
In a Denver Post article on the abolishment of Columbus Day, Salazar spoke strongly on the topic.
“Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a small part in restoring just a little bit of our humanity and honoring people who still exist today despite all attempts to wipe them off the planet,” Salazar said, according to the article.
The holiday is acknowledged across the country and remains marked on calendars, but Colorado State University has already begun taking the steps toward change by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day on its annual calendar.
“Having a day to recognize native people would be great, even if that means not celebrating a man who is most connected to genocide,” said Tiffany Kelly, Native American Cultural Center assistant director. “To celebrate a person who was proud of the acts of violence against the indigenous people and who carried out such atrocities is a slap in the face, and I don’t see as being necessary.”
With the many positive changes and recognitions of equality for all people across the country and worldwide, the awareness that has been brought to this prolonged issue is being seen as another step in the right direction.
“This change allows for truth telling and the celebration of native people who have lived in America for hundreds of years,” Vernon wrote. “Instead of celebrating Columbus’s arrival in the Americas and the ensuing genocide and oppression of indigenous people, it is a time to celebrate their history, struggles and resistance.”
According to many published articles and what most of the people in the country learned in history class, Columbus Day represents the day in 1492 when Christopher Columbus landed on “the new world” — what is now United States soil. But this was a “new world” only to the European explorers. It was a place that had already been home to its native peoples long before Columbus’ arrival.
This is why its abolishment is so important to many in the CSU community.
“It goes along with what we are taught in history books and creates a European narrative with what happened on these lands that has almost erased indigenous people ever being here,” said CSU ethnic studies major Danita Ordaz. “It’s really important that it is abolished and replaced to acknowledge the fact that there are Indigenous peoples’ here and there was genocide here.”
Those history lessons deceived even those in the Native American community, Smith said.
“Columbus represents the exploitation of peoples in this country,” Smith said. “We have all been mislead about this person, even myself as a young kid in school being taught about the 1492 sailing the ocean when the world was ‘flat’ and how he was a wonderful explorer. This whole misconception mislead who this person was and it’s been documented what he did. I just don’t understand how someone like that can be celebrated.”
Collegian Reporter Ashley Haberman can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.