While today is designated as the Columbus Day holiday on the federal calendar, it’s no longer being observed as such in a growing number of communities and schools.
Some states and local municipalities, along with their school districts, have dropped observance of Columbus Day. A handful of cities have gone so far as to replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. Berkeley, California, is credited with launching the holiday in 1992 (the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage). Minneapolis, Portland, Ore. and Seattle are the latest to take such action. The Portland School Board quickly followed suit with its own resolution. From the Oregonian:
Portland School Board member Greg Belisle, who sponsored the resolution, called it “a small way to say to indigenous students that we recognize your strengths, your validity, and your worth.”
… Belisle said Portland Public Schools’ new Indigenous People’s Day isn’t meant to replace Columbus Day, but to supplement it. “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?” he said.
Some school districts are working to make sure Columbus' role in history is understood, and taught, as a more complex element of America’s founding. The National History Education Clearinghouse, which is funded by the U.S. Department of Education, even offers a “Mythbusters” website with teaching materials to help educators provide a more nuanced portrait of the European explorer. (At the same time, there’s been recent controversy over changes to the Advanced Placement American History course materials, which will put a greater emphasis on the influence of the pre-Columbus period.)
In a commentary for the Minneapolis Star-Tribune in 2012, Diana King, a teacher at Waubun High School located on a Minnesota reservation, said she approaches Columbus Day as an opportunity to focus on the power of survival.
"We should have been wiped out," wrote King, who is a member of the White Earth Indian Nation. "It's a miracle Native people still exist. I have never liked the word 'conquered.' We are still here after 500 years. And maybe every time Columbus Day comes around, we should rethink who the real heroes are: the explorer or the survivors?"