BALTIMORE 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.
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.
The Baltimore City Council approved two measures related to the legacy of Christopher Columbus at its meeting a week before Columbus Day 2020. One of the bills the council passed would change the name of the holiday to Indigenous Peoples' Day. Council President Brandon Scott said the bill was first proposed in 2016, when sixth and seventh graders from City Neighbors charter school approached him with the request that they no longer recognize Columbus Day.
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.