This past Monday, October 8th, the Watertown Free Public Library was closed for a holiday. Millions of people across America call this holiday Columbus Day, in recognition of Christopher Columbus. But there is a growing movement to change both the name of the holiday and its focus to Indigenous People’s Day.
Columbus Day, fixed originally as October 12th, the day Columbus is said to have landed in the Americas, was declared a federal holiday in 1934 by Franklin Delano Roosevelt. Since the 1970s, the official date of the holiday has been the second Monday in October. And as early as the 1970s, the International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, sponsored by the United Nations, began discussing replacing the eponymous holiday with a holiday instead recognizing the history and culture of the Indigenous peoples of the Americas.
Already, several states don’t recognize Columbus Day or the celebration of it. Hawaii instead has the state holiday of “Discoverers’ Day” in recognition of the Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands. South Dakota celebrates the second Monday in October as Native Americans’ Day. Vermont began to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 2016, by proclamation from the governor, but it requires a proclamation of the holiday each year. Legislation is moving through Vermont’s legislature to make the change a permanent one. Local communities, towns and cities across the USA have also taken to recognizing the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, including Somerville, Brookline, and Cambridge.
There are strong feelings on both sides of the discussion: for keeping the holiday as Columbus Day or discarding that and replacing it with another name meant to acknowledge and celebrate the peoples who populated the Americas before Columbus arrived.
Here are some tools to help you explore the history, the legacy, and the meaning behind both.
The History of Indigenous People’s Day (Time Magazine)
By Kerri, WFPL Reference Librarian