A Culture of Controversy - October 12th – Columbus Day or Native American’s Day?

29 Sep

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The second Monday in October is designated in the United States as Columbus Day, commemorating Christopher Columbus’ first voyage and sighting of the Americas on October 12, 1492. Columbus Day became an official federal holiday in 1937. So, how did its official recognition come about? Italian-Americans were key in the creation of Columbus Day. Beginning on October 12, 1866, New York City‘s Italian population organized a celebration of the ‘discovery’ of America. This yearly celebration spread to other cities and became known as Columbus Day in San Francisco in 1869. Colorado became the first state to observe an official Columbus Day in 1905. Over time, other states followed until 1937 when President Franklin Roosevelt proclaimed every October 12 as Columbus Day. In 1971, the federal holiday was officially changed by Congress to be observed on the second Monday in October.

Leading up to the 500th anniversary of Columbus sighting of the America’s which occurred in 1992, many groups came out against celebrations. Today, it is a common understanding that Columbus did not ‘discover’ America, but had rather arrived at a land already inhabited or ‘discovered’ by the indigenous people called the Taino.  In a later voyage, he captured and sent over 1,200 of the Taino to Europe as slaves. Further, the Spanish who remained on the islands used the Taino people as forced labor, punishing them with torture and/or death if they resisted. Adding these terrible acts to the unwitting passing of diseases from the Europeans to the Taino would mean that the entire population of Hispaniola was wiped out in forty-three years. Many people cite this as the reason why Americans should not be celebrating Columbus’ accomplishments. The Columbus Day controversy has individuals and groups speaking out against and in many cases protesting Columbus Day celebrations and in some states such as South Dakota and California, this day has been replaced with Native American’s Day.

The innovations of the Native American culture have made significant contributions to our culture today. From chewing gum to parkas, the Native American Indian contributions have shaped modern day life and are worthy of celebration. To learn more, here are 10 things you may not know about American Indian civilization and 16 American Indian innovations that we use today.

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