Columbus Day celebrations in the United States—to honor the legacy of the man credited with “discovering” the New World—are almost as old as the nation itself. The earliest known Columbus Day celebrations took place on October 12, 1792, the 300th anniversary of his descent. But since the 1990s, an increasing number of states have begun to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day—a day to honor the culture and history of the people who lived in the Americas before and after Columbus’s arrival. holiday.
In the following Q&A, nominated member of the Kohari tribe of North Carolina and professor of education at Colorado State University, Susan C. Fairclothes explains the history of Indigenous Peoples Day and what it means for American education.
First, why is Columbus Day a problem?
For many indigenous peoples, Columbus Day is a controversial holiday. This is because Columbus is not seen as an explorer, but as a colonizer. Their arrival led to the forced occupation of the land and set the stage for widespread death and loss of indigenous ways of life.
When did Swadeshi Jan Diwas come?
In 1990, South Dakota – currently the state with the third largest population of Native Americans in the US – became the first state to officially recognize Native American Day, commonly known as Indigenous Peoples Day in other parts of the country. goes.
More than a dozen states and the District of Columbia now recognize Indigenous People’s Day. Those states include Alabama, Alaska, Hawaii, Idaho, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Michigan, Minnesota, New Mexico, North Carolina, Oklahoma, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont, Virginia, and Wisconsin.
How does Swadeshi Jan Divas change things?
Indigenous People’s Day provides an opportunity for teachers to rethink what they teach as the “cleanliness” story of Columbus’s arrival. This version omits or minimizes the devastating impact of Columbus’ arrival on the indigenous people. Swadeshi Jan Diwas is an occasion to reconcile the tension between these two perspectives.
Research has shown that many schools do not accurately represent indigenous peoples when teaching history. I think this is true not only on Indigenous Peoples Day, but throughout the school year. Researchers have found that K-12 schools teach Native Americans as if they only existed in the past. By modifying the curriculum to better reflect the histories and stories of Native peoples, both past and present, teachers can more accurately teach students about their cultures, histories, and traditions.
Has there been any pushback?
Yes, the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day has faced resistance from communities across the country. In 2021, parents in Parsippany, New Jersey, protested the local school board’s decision to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. Among other things, he cited a lack of community input, a failure to respect the heritage of Italian immigrants, and the need for a “more balanced picture of Columbus”. In response, the school board removed the names of all holidays from its calendar. Now holidays are simply referred to as “day off”.
What resources do you recommend for Swadeshi People’s Day?
I recommended “The Lies My Teacher Told Me About Christopher Columbus” by sociologist and educator James Lowen. I would also recommend “An Indigenous People’s History of the United States for Young People” by historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz. These books help to illustrate both the impact of Columbus’ arrival on the indigenous peoples of the Americas and the role of indigenous peoples in the founding of the United States. This is information that is usually absent in K-12 schools.
Other resources are available from organizations such as the National Museum of the American Indian, Learning for Justice and the Illuminative. These resources include sample lesson plans, books, and videos that show the diversity of Native American peoples and tribes. For example, a lesson plan from Illuminative provides students with the opportunity to learn about Swadeshi Jan Divas as well as explore ways to respect and protect land, air and water. Such lessons are important, as they address the ways in which the conservation of natural resources is essential for economic self-determination and the self-reliance of native nations.
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