Renaming Columbus Day


Native American march from Westlake Park to Seattle City Hall along 5th Avenue. Image Credit to Ellen M. Banner from the Seattle Times

by Noah Hlavaty, Editor-in-Chief

Every year since 1968, the United States has celebrated “Columbus Day” to commemorate the arrival of Christopher Columbus and his three Spanish ships in the Americas. The arrival of the Niña, Pinta, and Santa Maria that sailed the ocean blue in 1492 is common knowledge to most Americans, yet the history of both the true arrival and the holiday has been lost in the pages of time. 

Columbus’s expeditions to the middle American islands brought the arrival of Europeans to entire civilizations left untouched, and his discoveries of a new continent led to centuries of exploration of colonization. 

Many historians cite Columbus’s “discovery” as the pinnacle historical moment that became responsible for mass European colonization and the eventual foundation of America.  

However, during his time in the Carribean islands, Columbus and his crew slaughtered native populations and enslaved almost 600 native people and was responsible for the establishment of early transatlantic slave trades

To celebrate the quadricentennial of the Spanish arrival in the “new world”, President Benjamin Harrison called upon the American People to remember their founding history. Despite his four voyages to the Americas, Columbus never actually reached North American soil.

The United States has for decades pushed Columbus as the poster child for discovery in American history, despite evidence to the contrary. English explorer John Cabot touched down in present-day Newfoundland in 1497, being the documented voyager since Leif Erikson to make landfall with the North American Continent. 

The reason for this oversight of Cabot’s discovery can be traced to Cabot’s British nationality. Both Cabot and Columbus were relatively small historical figures for several hundred years after their deaths, yet since Cabot sailed under the flag of a former oppressor, the British Empire. 

It wasn’t until 1905 when the state of Colorado established Columbus Day as a state holiday that the precedent for a national holiday began. With the passage of the Uniform Monday Holiday Bill in 1968, many federal holidays were changed from their original dates to the nearest Mondays. 

The most famous holiday change occurred in 1954 when Armistice Day became Veterans’ Day to remember the Veterans of the Second World War rather than the ceasefire that ended it.

In light of the federal holiday comes the controversy around the founder, with many activists arguing that Columbus day glorifies the colonization and slaughtering of native populations. 

Several cities, including Seattle, Portland, and Olympia are choosing to celebrate Indigenous People’s day to call attention to the losses suffered by the Native American peoples and their cultures. 

Many young people, like Johnny Willems here at Central Kitsap support the name change, adding “it’s insensitive to celebrate the man who began the abuse of Indigenous peoples of North America.”

Other students argue that changing the name of the holiday “would be too authoritarian,” as said by Senior Joshua Hughes, “You can celebrate what Columbus did for our country but still condemn his actions. I wouldn’t call Indigenous People’s Day right because I think they made [the holiday] to celebrate discovery and exploration,”. 

Division amongst the student body is representative of the mixed opinions of the country about whether to change the name of the holiday and highlights the continuing debate about what elements of history we remember and that which we choose to forget.