It is 2019 and the Commonwealth is still celebrating a man whose crews carried out mass genocide, enslavement, and rape of indigenous people in the West Indies.
While many of us have the day off from work or school, most people probably don’t think about Christopher Columbus or his legacy on this holiday — they’re just glad to have the day off, or to get sales at their favorite stores. So why are many cities around the state and country changing the name of this holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day?
Much for the same reason that confederate statues and the place names of known racists are being removed. It is not to erase these people from history — rather, it recognizes that these people should not continue to be honored. The continuation of Columbus Day is offensive to many people with native ancestry. As an Italian-American myself, I find it shameful that this man was chosen to represent Italian heritage.
This Monday, let’s pause and remember who Columbus really was and how his enduring legacy shapes our modern world. (If your readers are not familiar with the history, the first few pages of Howard Zinn’s A People’s History of the United States will give them a more complete account of his “discovery” of America than they ever learned in school.) Then let’s remember how native peoples all over the Americas suffered at the hands of their white aggressors. Then let’s ask ourselves whose memory is more deserving of recognition.
The United States are a great country because of our diversity, but too often native peoples are forgotten or marginalized in our telling of history and in contemporary society. They continue to face higher than average rates of poverty, illness, and suicide and continue to face exploitation. Renaming Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day would be more than just a name change — it would honor the beautiful native cultures of the Americas, help recognize past and current injustices, and inspire our people to strive for greater peace and justice in our time.
I urge our Watertown elected officials to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day locally or to pass a resolution calling on the state legislature to change the name of the holiday statewide.
To learn more about the movement for Indigenous Peoples Day in Massachusetts, visit: http://www.indigenouspeoplesdayma.org/