Is Columbus Day Going Extinct?
Colleges, cities, small towns, and even states are changing the name of the controversial holiday, and if the trend continues it may be gone completely.
On the second Monday of October, many businesses in the United States will be closed for a federal holiday officially known as Columbus Day.
Businesses in the entire state of Alaska, however, will be closed for Indigenous Peoples Day, after Gov. Bill Walker renamed the holiday last year. The city of Cambridge, Massachusetts, will also celebrate its first Indigenous Peoples’ Day, after the City Council voted unanimously in June to change the name of a holiday whose namesake, they decided, was not worthy of celebrating.
Most recently, a student petition at nearby Brandeis University in Waltham, Massachusetts has called on the administration to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day, as a growing number of local governments and universities have done in the past few years.
Brandeis Provost Lisa Lynch has agreed to consider a resolution passed on to her by the Student Union, which stresses that the “legacy of Christopher Columbus is one of imperialism, genocide, torture, enslavement, and long-term systematic injustices which conflict with Brandeis University’s core principles of social justice.”
Many cities have cast off the traditional holiday named for Columbus, the Italian explorer whose accidental arrival on American shores in 1492 led to the extermination of native populations.
Berkeley, California has been honoring those native populations since 1992, when the city celebrated its first Indigenous Peoples Day. Seattle has celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day since 2014, the same year that Minneapolis decided to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day (there is, as the New York Times noted last year, some disagreement about whether and where an apostrophe belongs in the renamed holiday).
As of last year, the second Monday of October in Portland and Albuquerque is known as Indigenous Peoples Day, and as Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the cities of Carrboro, North Carolina and San Fernando, California. Brown University, which had called the holiday Fall Weekend since 2009, will celebrate its first Indigenous People’s Day this year.
Brown is the only Ivy League school to officially recognize Indigenous People’s Day, though students at Cornell University--which has a fall break that weekend--called on the administration to do so this past spring. Harvard is the only Ivy that continues to officially observe Columbus Day (though several communities within the school refer to it as Indigenous Peoples Day instead), while the remaining five Ivies hold classes that day.
Washington and California are among 22 states that don’t recognize the second Monday in October as a paid holiday, according to the Council of State Governments. Hawaii celebrates the neutral Discoverers’ Day, while the holiday has been known as Native Americans’ Day in South Dakota since 1990.
A number of other cities have altered Columbus Day celebrations, holding unofficial community gatherings in honor of Italian-American or indigenous populations. Columbus, Ohio hasn’t held its annual Columbus Day parade since the ‘90s, and marchers in the Columbus Day parade in Denver, Colorado, have been targeted by protesters wielding fake blood and dolls with missing limbs in recent years.
Congress has not taken up the issue, but in a year that has seen so many symbolic name changes at universities, other schools will surely follow Brandeis University in the coming weeks ahead of the contested holiday.