Activists are pressing Bozeman city commissioners to change the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in recognition of what happened to North America’s natives through the European settlement that followed Columbus’ arrival.
Given our own state’s experiences with the subjugation of Native Americans and their continued presence here as the state’s largest minority, it would be an appropriate gesture.
The holiday itself is of recent – and somewhat dubious – origins. It was designated in the 1930s by then President Franklin Roosevelt in response to lobbying by Italian-Americans and Catholics as a counter measure to the discrimination they suffered at the time.
Columbus’ own accomplishments are questionable. Assuming he had traversed most of the globe and reached India, he misnamed the people he found here. And though his arrival was the catalyst for widespread European settlement, it’s likely that Scandinavian Europeans reached North America perhaps as much as 500 years before Columbus.
More importantly, the systematic settlement Columbus’ arrival launched decimated native peoples through disease and violent conquest.
Native Americans who are asking the city to change the day’s designation speak of being asked as elementary school children to glorify Columbus’ arrival as though the devastation it unleashed on their ancestors never happened. From the hindsight of the 21st century, we know it did happen, and we should at least acknowledge it.
Also from the vantage of hindsight, the European settlement of the Americas was inevitable. But the manner in which conflict with Native Americans was resolved was not, though there is no way to fully rectify those wrongs now.
Bozeman would not be the first community to rename the holiday. Seattle, Portland, Oregon, and Missoula have already done so, as has the state of South Dakota.
Opponents to the move will call it revisionist history and political correctness run amok. But renaming the day will not be revising history, merely shifting its emphasis to recognize an important historical outcome that resulted from the event.
In reality, giving Columbus Day the new name of Indigenous Peoples Day is a small gesture. But it would be meaningful in that it will acknowledge the survival and resiliency of Native Americans, despite many acts by the U.S. government that can rightly be regarded as genocide and systematic efforts at cultural extinction.