OPINION: Indigenous Peoples Day is important; so is Columbus Day


Instead of Columbus Day, many students at Kansas State celebrated Indigenous Peoples Day last Monday. According to the Collegian article by Jason Tidd, “Indigenous Peoples Day celebration replaces Columbus Day at K-State,” this is the first year the national holiday has been celebrated in this way at K-State and I have to say, it’s about time.

The Native American community in the U.S. has been oppressed and mistreated throughout American history, and it’s so sad. Many tribes might have federally-recognized, self-governed lands, but many of the 2.5 million Native Americans living in the U.S. today experience exceptionally high rates of poverty, unemployment, infant mortality and so much more, according to Civil Rights 101.

They experience discrimination in America the same way other victims of long-term bias and discrimination do. It may be even worse in some senses since their land was taken from them by European conquests and even more recent events, including the Dakota Access Pipeline issue.

For this, Native Americans deserve the recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day. They deserve to have their movement against racism and have their demands for equality just like African-Americans deserve their Black Lives Matter movement. The conversation about racism in America needs to open up to more than just blacks versus whites, which seems to be dominating popular media outlets, because racism exists for all minorities, including the Native Americans.

On a related but more personal note, I had the opportunity last summer to talk with a nonprofit organization located in Colorado Springs, Colorado, called One Nation Walking Together. The director showed me some pictures she had personally taken during a visit to one of the nearby Native American reservations. It was appalling. It was children bathing in buckets of rainwater, families of seven sharing a single mattress and patchwork huts barely kept standing. Since seeing those photos, I’ve more completely understood the struggles facing the Native American people, so I completely agree with the need for an Indigenous Peoples Day.

All of that being said, I still believe we need Columbus Day.

I’m not saying this because Christopher Columbus was a stand-up guy we should all admire. Many of his actions toward Native Americans were deplorable: forced conversion to Christianity, the use of violence and exposing the native populations to tragic, destructive diseases to name a few, according to the History Channel’s “Columbus Controversy.” There’s no arguing there was any good in these actions toward the indigenous people

We don’t need to, and really shouldn’t, celebrate those actions. That is insensitive and disrespectful to the current Native American population’s plight. What Columbus Day should do is celebrate the start of a nation. The 1492 “discovery” (I understand that’s not the proper term since people already lived on this continent at that time, but let’s use the term loosely) changed the course of history, making the United States of America and all of its freedoms possible.

There’s no changing history. We can’t change what Christopher Columbus did centuries ago. We also can’t just pack up and leave Native Americans with all of North America. That’s like telling the African-American population to go back to Africa; that’s just not how that works.

What we can do is raise awareness for this community’s struggles of racism and poor living situations, just like we do with other minorities and take the necessary steps to create an equal and fair living situation for all Americans, Native or not.

Hi everyone! I'm a senior in journalism and cultural anthropology. My favorite things are storytelling, coffee and meeting new people. In that order.