How this US City Replaced "Columbus Day" with "Indigenous People Day"

Native American headdress / (c) Chris_Parfitt/Flickr
Native American headdress / (c) Chris_Parfitt/Flickr
On October 12, 1492, the infamous European maritime expedition headed by Christopher Columbus dropped sail in America (the Bahamas, to be exact). This event has been known as Columbus Day in the U.S., believing it marked the discovery of America. However, Columbus certainly was not the first to step foot in what became the U.S. The territory had long been inhabited by the land’s indigenous people, who were heavily mistreated by Europeans. Many centuries later, Berkeley, California has set out to rectify this politically incorrect holiday by honoring those native ancestors with the U.S.’s Indigenous People Day.

The idea of replacing Columbus Day first rose in 1977, during a delegation of Native nations to a United Nations International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas. The proposal was actually granted. But, it wasn’t until 1990–two years shy of Columbus Day’s 500th anniversary–that 120 Indian tribes and nations representatives from North and South America, as well as non-native activists, met in Ecuador at the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance. The reason for this meeting was to completely transform Columbus Day into a day that would honor and strengthen the liberation of the native peoples of the Americas. Although this was pivotal, it still didn’t completely eliminate the Columbus Day holiday.

Christopher Columbus’s fleet © Ian MacKenzie/Flickr

After this monumental conference, the Bay Area Indian Alliance was formed in Northern California. The group decided to fully embrace the resolve to commemorate the official 500th anniversary, October 12 1992, as the International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples. But with two years ahead of them before its official celebration, the Bay Area people, both native-born and non native-born, came together to collaborate on this new holiday’s celebration. This new group of people formed the Resistance 500. But once again, this still did lead to Columbus Day being completely superseded.

Following its founding, the Resistance 500 proposed to the Berkeley City Council to officially replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day. The group presented proven research to the council that exposed Columbus of shipping enslaved Indians back to Spain, starting the Transatlantic slave trade, and leading the slaughter of over 100,000 Taino Indians on the island of Hispaniola and enslaving the rest.

A year before the 500th Columbus Day anniversary, Berkeley City Council unanimously declared that October 12 would be commemorated in Berkeley as Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. Berkeley was the first U.S. city to completely abolish Columbus Day.

Wings © Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Berkeley’s first Indigenous Peoples Day celebration was held in 1992, 500 years after Columbus’ landing in the Americas. The celebration included parades, speeches, ceremonies, exhibits in schools, museums, libraries, and the university. The following year was Berkeley’s Indigenous Peoples Day Pow Wow and Indian Market, which is now a yearly tradition.

Day 286: Indigenous Peoples Day © Quinn Dombrowski/Flickr

Many other American cities have followed Berkeley’s lead, embracing and celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day. Minneapolis, Los Angeles, Nevada City, Seattle, Denver, Santa Cruz, Sebastopol, Phoenix, Richmond CA, and the entire states of Vermont and Alaska now celebrate and honor the land’s native ancestors with Indigenous Peoples Day. The state of South Dakota replaced Columbus Day with Native American Day, and San Francisco replaced it with Italian-American Day.