Reconsidering Columbus Day

Why does the federal government, a supposedly national symbol for diversity, continue to celebrate Columbus Day? This holiday does little to promote diversity and inclusion for American Indians/Alaska Natives. It celebrates the legacy of a man, Christopher Columbus, who committed egregious atrocities against Indigenous people. Could this be a contributing factor to American Indian/Alaska Native federal employees having the lowest engagement levels of any racial group in the federal government?

You may be asking yourself the following question: If American Indian/Alaska Native federal employees don’t like observing Columbus Day, why not ask their supervisor to allow them to work on that day and take another day off as annual leave? Unfortunately, federal workplace regulations do not allow non-essential employees to work on federal holidays due to the lack of workplace protections like workman’s compensation.

Several state governments do not observe Columbus Day like AK, AR, CA, DE, FL, HI, MI, MN, NV, OR, SD, TX, VT, WA, WI and WY.

Tribal governments do not recognize Columbus Day at all. If you call their offices on Columbus Day, someone will answer the phone. Some tribal governments like those in Oklahoma commemorate Columbus Day as “Native American” day or a day named after their Tribe.

This month, Seattle, WA named after the iconic Chief Seattle became the second major US city along with Minneapolis, MN to officially change the name of the Columbus Day holiday to “Indigenous People’s Day.”

Imagine you are sitting in your favorite restaurant and you are eating a sandwich. The person sitting next to you says, “You took my sandwich.” You reply, “No I didn’t, I discovered it.” That is essentially what Columbus did through the use of the doctrine of discovery, a land grab by his religious sponsors. It is the same legal doctrine that Supreme Court Justice John Marshall used in 1823 when he decreed that American Indians had rights to their land by occupancy but whites had the superior rights to the same land through “discovery.” Without knowing it, Columbus had a hand in the creation of the federal reservation system that we know today.

Who are the only two people not former presidents who are honored by a national holiday–Martin Luther King, Jr. and Christopher Columbus? Between the two, who do you think was the better ambassador for inclusion?

How did we get to this point as a federal government where we would honor someone who condoned slavery, colonization, genocide, racism, religious fanaticism and human and environmental degradation? These cruelties are as American as apple pie. Columbus Day is just the ice cream on top.

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