By: Matt McKenzie
NIAGARA UNIVERSITY, N.Y.- Columbus Day has been a fixture as a national holiday ever since 1937. Every second Monday of October in the United States, the nation commemorates the discovery of the Americas by Europeans.
While estimates have the population of the Americas at somewhere close to 100 million before the European contact, today the Indigenous Americans are very rarely portrayed or presented in the media. This can be directly attributed to the hundreds of years of systemic violence, the ignoring of treaties set up by world governments, eradication of indigenous culture through such things as assimilation schools, (when indigenous children were often violently taken from reservations and forced to attend “boarding schools,”). All of these are attempts at erasing the culture of these diverse peoples.
There have been many controversies surrounding the lack of respect for indigenous cultures, including the town flag of Whitesboro, New York, the depiction of Indigenous Americans in western genre films and even in professional sports with the name and mascot of the NFL team, the Washington Redskins. A lot of the complaints about how these subjects and similar subjects have become controversial are leveled against “politically correct” culture that is supposedly overly “sensitive” of people’s expression of free speech. It is not an attempt at stifling or canceling other’s voices, it is just finally the addition of formerly ignored voices. For a lot of people and communities, this is the beginning of their free speech. The internet and mass media has provided a voice for people who a few decades ago could not reach even slightly as many people as they can now and has allowed them to finally be able to call out the problems and injustices that communities for so long could not speak out against. This is pure empowerment. An acknowledgment of these issues is the rising popularity of such holidays as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Native American Day.
Beginning in 1989 South Dakota decided to celebrate Native American Day instead of Columbus Day. This acknowledgment of Indigenous peoples’ history and volition has been taken up nationally and internationally. Though it is an international holiday according to the United Nations starting in 1994, in the United States it is only recognized by specific states and localities. The village of Lewiston, the very place where Niagara University resides, recognizes both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Niagara University, being on the former land of the Haudenosaunee, needs to officially take the right step to change Columbus Day on their calendar and declare it Indigenous Peoples’ Day.