The Rev. Irvin Porter has collected numerous resources to help observe the day thoughtfully
by the Rev. Irvin Porter | Special to Presbyterian News Service
October 12, 1792, was the first observance in the United States of America of what we now know as “Columbus Day.” The Columbian Order of New York, better known as Tammany Hall, held a commemoration of the 300th anniversary of his historic arrival in the “New World.”
There are many Italians in both the United States and in Italy for whom “Columbus Day” is a celebration of heritage and not of the man himself. It was first hallowed as a legal holiday in the U.S. through the advocacy of Angelo Noce, a first-generation Italian, living in Denver, Colorado.
In 1892, the 400th anniversary of the voyage, after a lynching in New Orleans where a mob murdered 11 Italian immigrants, President Benjamin Harrison declared “Columbus Day” as a one-time national celebration to appease Italian Americans and ease diplomatic tensions with Italy. It was a time celebrated by observances and teaching moments to raise patriotism nationwide. This included instituting the use of a Pledge of Allegiance as composed by Francis Bellamy.
On Monday, states, cities and municipalities in the U.S. have taken steps to replace “Columbus Day” with what they believe to be a more just day of recognition for the Indigenous Peoples of this land, now known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The idea is to recognize the Native populations displaced and decimated after the Christopher Columbus landed on San Salvador in the Caribbean. The disease introduced to millions of Indigenous peoples brought death, destruction of their cultures, and enslavement.
For those and many other reasons, many states and communities have forgone what is seen as the devastating consequences of “Discovery” from 1492 and decided to officially observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead, to recognize the Native populations who were summarily pushed aside by the coming of European culture to their territories, which archeological evidence has shown Native people had occupied for thousands of years.
In 2023, Native American advocates and other critics struggle to change the Columbus Day holiday because of Columbus’ own mistreatment of Natives and his legacy of European colonization. The above map by the Pew Research Center indicates the states with holidays honoring Native Americans.
What can I do to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day?
It is not the goal of Indigenous Peoples’ Day to eradicate Italian American contributions to this society. But they are not the only contributors. The time has come to examine cultural genocide, the institution of slavery, and the ideas of “discovery” and how they all contribute to the American story and at what cost.
“Indigenous” peoples is a reference to the original inhabitants of a geographic region. The term “Native American” and “American Indian” have been used in referring to the Indigenous peoples of the United States of America, though the term “Indian” originated because Columbus believed he had reached the Indian Ocean. The best reference would be to use specific tribal names. Indigenous peoples’ use of terms to describe their race is not one size fits all. Different tribes, regional language groups, and individuals have varying opinions about how they should be referred to.
Visit these websites to learn more about Indigenous peoples
- Native Knowledge 360°, Home | Native Knowledge 360° – Interactive Teaching Resources (si.edu) is run by the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian.
- Unlearning Columbus Day myths, https://americanindian.si.edu/nk360/resources/Unlearning-Columbus-Day-Myths-Indigenous-Peoples-Day
- PBS’s Native American Heritage Collection is here. The site includes Indigenous art, history, and culture as told by historians, artists, students, and scientists.
- The Zinn Education Project believes in taking a more engaging and more honest look at the past. Look at their resources on Native American topics here.
Read books by Indigenous authors
These reading materials can help everyone learn more about Indigenous peoples. Each of these lists includes books by Indigenous authors that tell the stories of specific Indigenous tribes.
- We Are Teachers compiled this list of 15 books by Indigenous authors for use in the classroom.
- Colours of Us has a list of elementary picture books about Native Americans that you can share with your class.
- The Los Angeles Public Library offers this list of upper-grade fiction.
- The New York Public Library suggests these books for adults.
Try these activities to observe and celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day
There are many enriching activities you can do with your students to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day, to honor Indigenous Peoples’ Month (November), and to bring a broader understanding of Thanksgiving, American history, and environmental activism to your classroom.
- Explore the ongoing work of the Standing Rock Sioux tribe as they fight to protect their land against environmental threats and injustice.
- Study the #RealSkins hashtag, which went viral in 2017 and shows a variety of Indigenous peoples’ traditional clothing. On a different note, the #DearNonNatives hashtag offers a glimpse at the many problematic representations of Indigenous peoples in American culture. (Note: Posts with either of these hashtags may contain inappropriate content; we recommend screening beforehand.)
- Discuss the controversial role of Indigenous-inspired mascots in American sports.
- Discuss the decision of the American Library Association to rename the Laura Ingalls Wilder Award the Children’s Literature Legacy Award because of the attitudes toward Indigenous people expressed in her books.
- Learn about the rich oral tradition of Native American storytelling and create your own stories to share using PBS’s Circle of Stories resources.
- Learn about the geography of Indigenous tribes by making regional maps.
- Teach about Native American women leaders using this guidance from Learning for Justice.
Also, feel free to contact:
- The Rev. Irvin Porter, Associate for Native American Intercultural Congregational Support, at firstname.lastname@example.org
- The Native American Intercultural Congregational Support webpage is here.
- Click here to visit the PC(USA)’s Native American Ministries’ Facebook page.
The Rev. Irvin Porter is the Presbyterian Mission Agency’s Associate for Native American Intercultural Congregational Support.
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