Imagine a group of men arrive to a country and decide they are superior to everything indigenous. This superiority leads to them enslaving, kidnapping and committing genocide against the people who had been living in the area for generations. Imagine, hundreds of years after nearly eliminating these people and colonizing a country with impunity, these men are hailed as innocent “explorers.” Imagine there are almost 600 statues of these men across the world, honoring their leader, who even has a holiday dedicated to him.
Unfortunately, the luxury of hypotheticals does not exist. Every second Monday of October, the United States celebrates Columbus Day, dedicated to the man who led to the destruction of indigenous Americans’ original societies.
The practice and recognition of Columbus Day is not just immoral — it is a display of violent apathy toward the near-elimination of entire civilizations. For the indigenous Americans to have to endure the annual salute to their ancestors’ terrorizer demonstrates the indifference of the institutions that continue to erase them.
Last year, the University’s Native American and Indigenous Collective created a petition calling on the University to recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous People’s Day. Jacob Barrios, an indigenous student and ethnic studies senior, said changing the holiday demonstrates support for the indigenous.
“To indigenous people it is a reminder that the country has chosen to honor a legacy of colonization, conquest, exploitation and land theft at the expense of indigenous people,” Barrios said. “If they changed the name it would be an acknowledgment that indigenous people were indeed wronged — something missing from the rhetoric of colonization.”
Demanding the removal of the holiday is not unreasonable — it’s been successfully done before. Although the vast majority of local and state governments recognize the holiday, at least ten cities have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, as well as Bexar County in Texas on Oct. 6. Austin should do the same.
Much of the legislation cites similar motivations — recognizing the contributions given to America by its indigenous communities, despite the colonization of their land, and establishing a path toward healing. Thus far, the Austin City Council has not proposed any legislation supporting this demand, according to their communications team. No member of the mayor’s office could be reached for comment on the matter.
To acknowledge Oct. 12 as “Indigenous People’s Day” is to acknowledge the resilience, the brilliance and the continuous survival of the people who originated on the stolen land we walk on. Supporting the upliftment of Native Americans is not a burden on non-Natives. It is the relinquishing of a propagandist view of Columbus’s actions, perpetuated by our education system. Continuing to acknowledge Columbus Day is a complacency we no longer have an excuse to allow.
Hamze is an international relations and global studies junior from Austin. He is an Associate Editor. Follow him on Twitter @adamhamz.