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Instead of Columbus Day, some U.S. cities celebrate Indigenous People's Day

By Emanuella Grinberg, CNN
updated 6:37 PM EDT, Mon October 13, 2014
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Seattle and Minneapolis will celebrate Indigenous People's Day on Columbus Day
  • Many states and cities already do not recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday
  • The move offends some Italian-Americans, who celebrate their heritage on Columbus Day

(CNN) -- Columbus Day often brings to mind the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. This Monday, some cities and states would rather you think of the Sioux, the Suquamish and the Chippewa.

For the first time this year, Seattle and Minneapolis will recognize the second Monday in October as "Indigenous People's Day." The cities join a growing list of jurisdictions choosing to shift the holiday's focus from Christopher Columbus to the people he encountered in the New World and their modern-day descendants.

The Seattle City Council voted last week to reinvent the holiday to celebrate "the thriving cultures and values of Indigenous Peoples in our region." The Minneapolis City Council approved a similar measure in April "to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city."

The Seattle School Board followed suit along with Portland Public Schools, where officials say Indigenous People's Day will not replace Columbus Day but supplement it. Schools across the country have been working for years to clarify Columbus' role in history.

"It's not about one or the other, it's about how do we get a complete picture to understand where we're at in history, and how we got there?" said Portland School Board member Greg Belisle, according to the Oregonian.

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In many cities, Columbus Day is a celebration of Italian-American heritage, leading to opposition to the recasting of Columbus Day.

"Italian-Americans are deeply offended," Lisa Marchese, a lawyer affiliated with the Order Sons of Italy in America, told The Seattle Times."By this resolution, you say to all Italian-Americans that the city of Seattle no longer deems your heritage or your community worthy of recognition."

President Benjamin Harrison established a celebration of Columbus Day in 1892, the 400th anniversary of Columbus' landing in the Bahamas in 1492. The holiday started being celebrated on the second Monday in October in 1971. Today, 16 states, including Alaska, Hawaii and Oregon, don't recognize Columbus Day as a public holiday. South Dakota has celebrated Native American Day since 1990.

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Berkeley, California, is thought to be the first city to adopt Indigenous People's Day in 1992, building on international efforts to end the celebration of Columbus' "discovery" of the New World. The International Day of the World's Indigenous People is celebrated on August 9 thanks to a 1994 United Nations General Assembly resolution.

The Italian explorer and his namesake holiday have long been controversial. Despite what American schoolchildren may have learned about when "Columbus sailed the ocean blue," supporters of Indigenous People's Day believe Columbus should not be celebrated for "discovering" America. Indigenous people had been living in the "New World" for centuries by the time he arrived, and his voyages established lasting connections between Europe and Americans that paved the way for its colonization, leading to the subjugation and decimation of the indigenous population.

"Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice ... allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day," Seattle Councilmember Kshama Sawant said.

Do you think we should still celebrate Columbus Day? Tell us in the comments.

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