For centuries, Christopher Columbus was portrayed as a heroic explorer who "discovered" The Americas. However, this narrative ignores the fact that Indigenous peoples had inhabited the continent for thousands of years before Columbus's arrival. Columbus's voyages marked the beginning of a long history of colonization, exploitation, violence against Indigenous populations, and death.

Columbus's arrival set in motion a series of events that led to the brutal subjugation, forced labor, and diseases that decimated Indigenous populations. The encounters between Columbus and Indigenous peoples were far from peaceful, as his expeditions often involved violence and exploitation.

“[The indigenous inhabitants] should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion.

- Christopher Columbus

Columbus Day has long been celebrated in the United States as a day to remember the arrival of Christopher Columbus to the Americas in 1492. However, in recent years, there has been a growing recognition that this holiday is filled with historical inaccuracies and a failure to acknowledge the suffering and injustices endured by Indigenous peoples as a result of Columbus's arrival. This change in perspective is what ignited the celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day, a day dedicated to honoring the rich heritage, resilience, and contributions of Indigenous communities, a step towards justice and reconciliation.

Recognizing Indigenous Peoples' Day and how to be an ally

La Roya indigenous community/Photo by Juan Carlos Huayllapuma/CIFOR

Indigenous People’s Day acknowledges the resilience of Indigenous communities, their unique cultures, and their enduring connections to the land. It is a step towards rectifying the historical inaccuracies perpetuated by Columbus Day and provides an opportunity to raise awareness about the ongoing challenges faced by Indigenous peoples, including issues related to land rights, environmental justice, and social inequality. Here are some things you can do as an ally:

Awareness and allyship

To challenge the beliefs associated with Columbus Day, we must educate ourselves about the true history of Indigenous peoples. This includes understanding their contributions to society, their struggles, and contemporary issues. Consider also donating to organizations that advocate for Indigenous rights, cultural preservation, and social justice. Your support can make a meaningful difference in the lives of Indigenous communities.

Dialogue and advocacy

Engage in respectful and open conversations with Indigenous individuals and communities. Listen to their stories, concerns, and aspirations, and learn from their perspectives, and advocate for policies and initiatives that promote Indigenous rights, environmental sustainability, and social equality. This includes supporting efforts to address issues such as clean water access, healthcare, education, and representation in government.

Getty Images

Beyond Indigenous Peoples Day

As we challenge the myths of the “discovery” of the Americas and accept the true history of colonization, we must remember to acknowledge a fundamental truth: Indigenous peoples are still here, thriving, and contributing to our world in countless ways. The celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day is not just about honoring the historical heritage of Indigenous communities; it is also a celebration of their continued existence and resilience. Their languages, traditions, and art forms persist and adapt to contemporary realities. 

It is a reminder that the challenges faced by Indigenous communities are not confined to the pages of history books. Contemporary issues, such as land rights, environmental conservation, social justice, and healthcare disparities, continue to impact Indigenous peoples in the United States as well as worldwide, and it is our responsibility to be active allies and partners in the journey towards justice and reconciliation.

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