HOWARD COUNTY, MD — Columbus Day, the second Monday of October, is recognized as a federal holiday honoring Italian Americans. But a growing number of states and cities are marking the day as Indigenous Peoples Day, a day that recognizes Native Americans instead.
"On our first observance of Indigenous Peoples’ day in Howard County, we hope it opens up discussions on the importance of acknowledging our history throughout our government and our community," said Howard County County Executive Calvin Ball in a statement. "Indigenous and Native American history is embedded in our nomenclature and our geography – Patuxent, Potomac, Kittamaqundi - and there is a clear opportunity for our residents of all ages to learn more about the people who lived on this land before us. I encourage our residents to use this day to reflect and learn more about the native lands that we live on, there is a deep history of erasing these stories and part of our goal is to amplify and share the stories of Native people.”
“Indigenous Peoples’ Day brings awareness to the First People of this nation that often are invisible to many,” added Kevin Allis, CEO for the National Congress of the American Indian. “It's a day that celebrates the beauty of the American Indian, and is a reminder to all that tribal nations, and their traditions and customs, still exist.”
In Howard County, there is a long tradition of honoring Native Americans and those who lived on these lands before us. The Howard County Historical Society noted that based on archeology, evidence of Native American settlement in the Howard County region suggests that the earliest settlers were here 12,000 years ago. Algonquin speaking peoples used these lands that we call home as hunting grounds prior to European colonization in the 1600's.
The county is surrounded by remnants of that Algonquin past by our natural landmarks; the Patapsco River derives from the Algonquin meaning "Backriver" while the Patuxent River was named by famed explorer John Smith after the Patuxent people who lived along its banks. Lake Kittamaqundi (loosely translated into "A Friendly Meeting Place") in Columbia was named by The Rouse Company in 1966 to honor the Algonquin Piscataway peoples who lived along the Southern border of the County into Prince George's County and further points south.
The Quaker Ellicott family, known for their ingenuity and enterprise were also strong advocates of education and often invited Native Americans from tribes across the United States to come to Ellicott Mills and engage, interact and learn in one of their Quaker Schools. Members of the Chickasaw, Crow, Miami, Beaver, Delawares, Shawanese, and Potowatomie Tribes were known to have visited Ellicott Mills from the late 1700s to the early 1800s. With the increased settlement in the region, Native Americans in Howard County were left with similar choices that thousands of other tribes would be forced to make - assimilate into an American way of life or be displaced from their ancestral lands.
"Indigenous Peoples’ Day is about acknowledging the First People, the Treaty People, of the land we now call home,” said Ani Begay, Navajo Nation representative. “It is a first step in honestly addressing the legacies and costs of our prosperity, both imparted unevenly to this day. We do not get to choose our past, but we get to choose our values: How we live up to and celebrate them. This moment in history is our opportunity to choose, with the clarity of historical perspective as to the true measure of those long celebrated as heroes, to celebrate legacies that represent our values. Today, Howard County’s choice is local. Today we choose Civility and Indigeneity."
In Columbia, Monday is Indigenous Peoples Day. Howard County government offices, courts, animal shelter, 50+ centers and Robinson Nature Center will be closed in observance of the Indigenous Peoples' Day holiday Oct. 12. However, regular trash, recycling, yard trim and food scrap services will be in effect and the Alpha Ridge Landfill will be open. County parks, the Gary J. Arthur, North Laurel and Roger Carter Community Centers, county historic sites and the Meadowbrook Athletic Center will be open on Oct. 12. The Cedar Lane and Schooley Mill Activity Rooms will be open, but by permit only.
The Regional Transportation Agency (RTA) will operate on a regular weekday schedule. For more information on RTA, call 1-800-270-9553 or visit www.transitrta.com. All parking regulations and fees will be in effect on Indigenous Peoples' Day. The 9-1-1 Center, police and fire departments will be staffed 24 hours a day, seven days a week. For emergencies, call 9-1-1. For non-emergencies, please call 410-313-2200.
The holiday in 2020 comes as the decades-long debate and controversy over Native American sports team names continues. Earlier this year, the NFL team in Washington, D.C., dropped their Redskins nickname and are now simply called the Washington Football Team. The Cleveland Indians are also considering changing their name for the first time since 1915, according to reports.
Columbus Day celebrations date back to the 18th century in some places, according to the History Channel, but did not become a federal holiday for celebration on the second Monday of October until 1971. The day continues to be listed by the federal government as Columbus Day.
Indigenous Peoples Day — seen by its promoters as a day of reckoning for centuries of systemic bias against native populations — is a more recent phenomenon.
South Dakota was the first state to recognize “Native Americans Day” in 1990, and the city of Berkeley, California, declared the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day in 1992. Hundreds of municipalities have followed during the past decade.
The debate continues elsewhere.
In Chicago, which hosts one of the largest yearly Columbus Day parades, there’s been a push to make a change. Chicago Public Schools earlier this year announced it is ditching Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day. But the city as a whole still represents the holiday honoring Italian Americans.
The controversy is centered on facts that show Columbus was far from the first person to “discover” the Americas, did not land in the United States and was involved in the slaughter of Native Americans after he did arrive.
Earlier this year, protesters attempted to destroy the statue of Columbus in Chicago’s Arrigo Park, where the city’s annual October parade concludes. The city later had it removed.
Large Columbus Day parades are held in Cleveland and Pittsburgh, among other major American cities. All of these have been canceled in their traditional form for 2020 due to the coronavirus, however.
Evanston, one of Chicago’s largest suburbs and home to Northwestern University, made the switch from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day in 2016.
Bernie Pratt, a First Nations (name given to Native Americans born in Canada) resident, applauded the suburb’s move.
"When Columbus came ashore, he was diseased and infected with parasites,” Pratt told Patch after the city’s decision. “He was starving, and wasn't going to last more than a couple of days. He shouldn't be acknowledged for being lost."
But Louis Rago, president of the Italian American Human Relations Foundation of Chicago, was among those against the move.
"I don't understand why it (Indigenous Peoples Day) has to fall on Columbus Day," Rago told Patch. "There are so many other days …. There's a group of people that feel that whatever good came from Columbus landing on the shores of the Americas, all the evil that's happened since 1492 is his fault."
As of 2019, at least eight states, 10 universities and more than 130 cities observe Indigenous Peoples Day, according to a USA Today report. Several states, such as Louisiana and Wisconsin, made the change just last year.