Leaving the “Old World” Behind: Why Pitzer Needs Indigenous Peoples Day
by Chance Kawar and Josue Pasillas
Everybody loves holidays. They are occasions to celebrate our customs and our culture, opportunities to spend time with family and friends. Whether it means enjoying a summertime barbeque on Memorial Day or going out for Chinese food on Christmas Eve, we all have our own traditions that make holidays special.
Far too often, however, we neglect to acknowledge the history behind the holidays we celebrate. Such is the case for Columbus Day, a federal and state holiday that appears on the calendar every October, celebrating the life of Christopher Columbus.
Many Americans still possess a romantic image of this man, who famously sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in 1492, bringing Christianity to the “uncivilized Indians” of the New World. But the events that actually took place during his four voyages to the Caribbean are horrifyingly cruel and tragic.
It is well documented by historians that in less than two decades, some 3 million indigenous peoples had died on the island of Hispaniola as a result of warfare and slavery. Records of the atrocities committed are hard to imagine. Under the leadership of Christopher Columbus, forced labor, rape, and murder took place in numbers that can only be described as genocide.
Based on this history, it is only fair to ask the question: Why do we celebrate Christopher Columbus with a federal holiday? There seems no rational reason to commemorate a man who committed such horrendous war crimes.
If we are going to start a conversation about what Columbus Day really means, we need to take bold action. It is no longer enough to silently ignore Columbus Day or pretend to be unaware of its implications. We need to stand up for the truth and confront the reality of history, even if it’s ugly.
This week, a resolution will go before the Pitzer College Student Senate that aims to replace Columbus Day by officially designating the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. This resolution will be a small step towards creating a more positive culture on campus that embraces the identity and heritage of Native Americans and Indigenous peoples.
It is difficult to understate how critical it is to offer legitimacy to a group of individuals who are far too often ignored. The holiday would represent an opportunity to solemnly remember the centuries of sacrifice, hardship, discrimination, and brutality to which they have been systematically subjected.
Cities all over the country have taken similar actions by recognizing Indigenous Peoples Day; including Seattle, Berkeley, Denver, Minneapolis, and Santa Cruz. Each of these municipalities recognize the importance of taking a stand—even when the action may be criticized as unimportant or unpopular.
At Pitzer College, we have a long tradition of rallying around our core values of social responsibility and intercultural understanding. The very heart of this resolution is aimed at addressing those two values. We feel passionately that approving this resolution is the right thing to do, and we would encourage our fellow senators to vote in favor.
Let’s make sure this is a holiday worth celebrating.