By Frank Wickizer –
When I was in elementary school, the second Monday in October was just another day off I had. It held no special significance. I celebrated the fact that I had school off, but it was never a holiday to me.
Through the years I have grown to learn, however, that this day in October is much more than just a day elementary school kids and federal workers get off, it’s a day that should be spent in remembrance, in unity, and most importantly, in strength.
For those that don’t know what I’m on about, this day is normally known as “Columbus Day” and is celebrated proudly by those of Italian descent traditionally. Now we know he was not the first human to set foot here, or even the first European for that matter.
Thousands of years before Christopher Columbus was even born, millions of people had been living there. These indigenous people (the Taino) were friendly to Columbus, but he didn’t return the kindness.
His enslavement and murder of almost all the indigenous people he saw set a precedent that still exists in some facet today.
One factor of Columbus Day that sets it apart from other holidays is how formal it is. Many localities do not observe it, and much of the celebration is located in specific places. For instance, the first place to make it an official holiday was Colorado in 1906 and places such as New York and other cities that have large Italian-American populations observe the day as it stands, but Lincoln is different. Lincoln has never ratified the second Monday of October as Columbus Day, and for that, I am proud
What I am even more proud of, is the distancing Lincoln has made from Columbus Day. For now on the second Monday of October, the official holiday in Lincoln as set by the City Council is referred to as Indigenous People’s Day. This day is to celebrate Native American lifestyles, traditions, beliefs, languages, and culture. It stands for more though, it stands for progress and the possibility of change in a world that seems unable to find it in them. The story behind the ratification in Lincoln is perhaps just as wonderful, though, as the people this day celebrates.
The city council of Lincoln sat down on the 26th of September and convened on matters of the people. Item 13, “a resolution declaring the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day in the city and encouraging other institutions to recognize the day as well.”
Introduced and sponsored by Councilman Carl Eskridge, he decided to have an applicant speak for him. This person was Pastor Linda Quenser from Sacred Winds Church
(seen right) and what she had to say was simply wonderful. She made it clear that she is coming from her “capacity as a pastor” and that is important because she represents a community of people as a church leader. She made it clear that “this day serves as a positive to recognize the culture and history and the contributions of Native Americans.”
Though I disagree that Columbus Day should be a celebration of any type, I do recognize this as a great compromise if it sparks more progress. For instance, when asked if there were another day that would be more appropriate by Councilman Jon Camp, she responded with a firm no with reasoning that included the fact that “this holiday is linked to the discovery, and that also related in the subjugation of Native peoples in the Americas.”
This is true, especially when thinking of the Taino people, a subgroup of the Arawak Indians that were wiped out by Columbus himself and his men or enslaved. What’s important to realize is how much that this was ignored
For hundreds of years, Columbus was a hero that was said to have “discovered” the New World. Howard Zinn was one of the first mainstream historians to recognize this atrocity in a book titled “A People’s History of the United States.”
The third speaker at the meeting spoke most to this oppression. His name is Dale Gutierrez (seen below), a Chicano Mexican American man who spoke passionately about this historical injustice. First, he made sure to make clear his identity, that “we are the sons and the daughters of the martyrs” (referring to the victims of European conquest set forth by Columbus).
Perhaps his most powerful moment, though, was when he said, “We need to think about giving the indigenous people their due.”
I think this progress will occur, as well. This is because when the vote came up for the ratification of Indigenous People’s day, the council voted unanimously for it and council members said they were “deeply moved” by the comments made. This surprised me, especially after the push back that was presented by multiple council members.
Indigenous People’s Day is not a Lincoln-only holiday, though, it is much more widespread. It started as a counter-holiday to Columbus Day in Berkeley, California in 1977. Berkeley was also the first place that Indigenous People’s Day became an official holiday, in 1992, on the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage. Other places that formally celebrate Columbus Day include Olympia, Minneapolis, San Fernando, Alaska, and many others.
Similar holidays and celebrations are celebrated informally by many. For instance, the most famous is the group that gathers at sunrise on Alcatraz Island on that day to celebrate and remember the Indigenous occupation of the island.
Though this holiday doesn’t seem to do anything but good, there has been resistance. Italians across the country have voiced their opinion on the fact that failing to remember Columbus is disrespect to all Italians.
In response, many localities, such as San Francisco, have also incorporated “Italian Heritage Day” as a formal holiday celebrated on that day. But I disagree with this compromise, to be honest.
I don’t believe there is any reason to celebrate Columbus Day as a holiday commemorating his voyage, because, once again, his voyage marks the beginning of a hellish life for millions of Indigenous people and the murder of millions of others.
What’s important to realize about this controversy, though, is that it comes from the same position as the people wanting indigenous People’s Day.
This day should be spent celebrating heritage and what these cultures combined were able to do. That is what is so easily forgotten in the madness. Together, these cultures were able to take make a country where they are both finally able to be recognized and celebrated by each other.