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Tensions persist between legacy of Christopher Columbus, native people

Indigenous Peoples Columbus Day Holidays
Posted at 7:40 AM, Oct 11, 2021
and last updated 2021-10-11 09:40:54-04

Monday's federal holiday dedicated to Christopher Columbus is highlighting the ongoing divide between those who view the explorer as a representative of Italian Americans' history and those horrified by an annual tribute that ignores the native people whose lives and culture were forever changed by colonialism.

For decades, Native American activists have called on governments to re-focus Columbus Day celebrations due to the fact that the explorer slaughtered and enslaved Native people upon arriving in North America.

Major cities like Boston and Los Angeles have taken up those calls and chosen to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day in recent years.

On Friday, President Joe Biden became the first president to issue a proclamation to mark Indigenous Peoples' Day — perhaps the most prominent action that's ever been made in re-focusing the holiday.

In his proclamation, Biden didn't shy away from addressing past atrocities committed by the U.S. against Native Americans.

"Our country was conceived on a promise of equality and opportunity for all people — a promise that, despite the extraordinary progress we have made through the years, we have never fully lived up to," the proclamation read.

But despite Biden's statement, activists say efforts to end a formal holiday in Columbus' name remain stalled by politicians and organizations focusing on Italian American heritage.

According to NPR, some Italian American groups argue that the adoption of Columbus Day in the 1930s helped give Italian immigrants an identity when many were discriminated against because of their heritage. But activists calling for a re-focusing of the holiday argue such a view shields the atrocities committed by Columbus in the name of colonialism.

"The opposition has tried to paint Columbus as a benevolent man, similar to how white supremacists have painted Robert E. Lee," Les Begay, Diné Nation member and co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples' Day Coalition of Illinois, told The Associated Press. "Not honoring Indigenous peoples on this day just continues to erase our history, our contributions and the fact that we were the first inhabitants of this country."

Philadelphia is one of many cities choosing to re-focus the holiday to honor Indigenous People — a move that has upset Italian American residents in the city.

"We have a mayor that's doing everything he can to attack the Italian American community, including canceling its parade, removing statues, changing the Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day by fiat," said Philadelphia lawyer George Bochetto, who has been fighting the city in the hopes of resuming Columbus Day celebrations.