Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?
Does your state, city, or school celebrate Columbus Day, or do you celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day? Many students have learned a poem that starts off, “In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” It goes on to tell of Columbus’s journey across the sea. This way of framing teaching about Christopher Columbus may lead to the minimization of the pain and suffering of the indigenous people Columbus encountered on his voyages.
Columbus Day started as a celebration of Italian American heritage in New York City in 1792 (Fletcher 2009). It became a federal holiday in 1937; however, the recognition of Columbus Day without acknowledging the pain and suffering of Native Americans leads to an imbalanced and inaccurate view of American history. Columbus recorded details of his exploration in his journal from August to November 1492. In it he discussed the Bahamian Island of Guanahani (San Salvador) and how he encountered the Taíno, including details of his voyage, the native inhabitants, and his thoughts about why the people should be enslaved (Library of Congress n.d.). Columbus made four transatlantic voyages, which made way for the European exploration and colonization of America. His explorations led to a reduction in the number of Native Americans. Many textbooks and trade books gloss over details and present only a partial view of this history. The injustices indigenous people were forced to live through are often minimized or worse yet, completely omitted. The school library can provide students with the opportunity to explore varying texts about Christopher Columbus. One of the main reasons school libraries exist is to help students become critical thinkers, able to utilize information to construct their own meaning and knowledge.
Indigenous Peoples Day celebrates and honors Native Americans. It began as a counter-celebration to Columbus Day in 1989 in South Dakota. It is celebrated on the second Monday in October. This day helps recognize the contributions and the suffering of our nation’s original inhabitants.
Do you continue with the notion that Columbus “discovered” America, or do you select books and activities that allow students to investigate a more accurate view of history?
Here are a few activities you can do to encourage a deeper look at history:
- Start with the basic truth Christopher Columbus arrived on land already inhabited by people.
- Encourage students to share what they already know about Christopher Columbus and then help them build on this knowledge.
- Allow students to investigate books, articles, and primary source documents; watch videos; and listen to audio that present balanced and accurate information about the impact Christopher Columbus had on Native Americans.
- Allow students to construct their own knowledge by presenting comprehensive information.
- Read books by native authors.
- Research and highlight local and regional tribes in your area.
- Try using GALE’s Opposing Viewpoints database for older students. The database will help students as they frame their own thoughts about Christopher Columbus. It presents articles, audio files, and much more to illustrate both sides–to celebrate Columbus Day or not.
- Expand your own awareness. Consider subscribing to the All My Relations Podcast by Matika Wilbur (Swinomish and Tulalip) and Adrienne Keene (Cherokee Nation). https://www.allmyrelationspodcast.com/
Christopher Columbus: Controversial Explorer of the Americas
Series Title: Hero or Villain? Claims and Counter Claims
Author: Brink, Christopher
Publisher: Cavendish Square, 2019
Grade(s): Young Adult
A Journey with Christopher Columbus
Series Title: Primary Source Explorers
Author: Kallen, Stuart
Publisher: Lerner Publications, 2018
Series Title: What You Didn’t Know about History
Author: Rajczak, Michael
Publisher: Gareth Steven Publishing, 2015
Christopher Columbus: Explorer and Colonizer of the New World
Series Title: Spotlight on Explorers and Colonization
Author: Toth, Henrietta
Publisher: Rosen Publishing, 2016
Grade(s): Young Adult
Anti-Defamation League’s “Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day”: https://www.adl.org/media/7104/download
Infinity of Nations Art and History in the Collections of the National Museum of the American Indian: https://americanindian.si.edu/exhibitions/infinityofnations/
Do you celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day in your school library? We would like to hear all about it. Please share on the blog.
Fletcher, Dan. 2009. “A Brief History of Columbus Day.” Time (Oct. 12). http://content.time.com/time/nation/article/0,8599,1929666,00.html.
Library of Congress. n.d. “Exploring the Early Americas: Columbus and the Taino.” https://www.loc.gov/exhibits/exploring-the-early-americas/columbus-and-the-taino.html
Author: Michelle Easley
Michelle Easley is the author of How to Increase Diversity in School Library Collections and Programs. Michelle is a national presenter, diversity and library advocate, consultant and speaker. Michelle spends her free time volunteering with homeless youth.