How Indigenous Peoples Day Came To Be

Indigenous Peoples Day -- the second Monday in October dedicated to the Native peoples who populated both American continents and their descendants. It's a day to celebrate their history, heritage and cultures. The holiday has come about over the last couple decades and is gaining more traction as people continue to acknowledge systemic oppression against minorities. But how did we get Indigenous Peoples Day?

To understand how holiday emerged, let's rewind the clock back to 1492. As taught in many American schools, Italian explorer Christopher Columbus set sail with three ships on the Atlantic Ocean to find a western route from Europe to Asia for the Spanish crown. He and his crew reached a Bahamian island known today as Watling Island. The native people at the time called the island Guanahaní, but Columbus named it San Salvador. Columbus's arrival not only kicked off European transatlantic exploration and colonization but also started a trend of enslaving and disenfranchising native peoples.

The first recorded celebration of Columbus Day in the United States was on October 12, 1792. Since then, many Americans celebrated the explorer's contributions to history. NPR noted that many Italian Americans use the holiday to celebrate their ethnic heritage and contributions to American history. The first federal observance came in 1937 under President Franklin D. Roosevelt. In 1971, it became a federal holiday via a presidential proclamation. For many Native Americans, however, it was a cruel reminder of centuries of colonial oppression continue to affect generations of native peoples not just in North America, but the Western Hemisphere.

It wasn't until 1992 when Berkeley, California made a change. The city became the first to adopt Indigenous Peoples Day to honor and celebrate Native Americans instead of Columbus. Since then, other cities, towns and states have opted for Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day on the second Monday in October. Even college campuses across the nation have also discarded Columbus in lieu of Indigenous Peoples Day. Some localities have variations of this holiday, such as Hawaii's Discoverers' Day and South Dakota's Native American Day.

Photo: Getty Images

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