Point: Recognizing Indigenous People’s Day is a step forward

Shideh Ghandeharizadeh | Daily Trojan

There’s a few things that almost all public schoolchildren know. It was 1492 when Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue on the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. What they might not know is that Columbus’ actions propelled the genocide of millions of Native Americans — that his own writings reveal his motivations to seize gold and enslave those that he encountered. His subjugation led to the devastation and destruction of Native American communities that have now endured centuries of trauma. It ripped open one of the largest historical wounds in humanity. By any standard, it was deplorable.

So when the Los Angeles City Council changed Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day, it sent Angelenos an important message: We are better than our past, and we will strive to be better than our present.

It amazes many that, given Columbus’ history and Los Angeles’ progressivism, it took so long for the city to stop its endorsed celebration of a man who perpetuated so much violence.

Unfortunately, the move has been met by distaste by many who view it as yet another effort by the left to instill political correctness in everyday life. TheWall Street Journal  Editorial Board said of the move, “If we honored only saints, few would make it onto pedestal.” Yes, indeed — but that is the point of those whose names have become national days of celebration. The presence of Christopher Columbus among the only two other federal holidays named after historical leaders, Martin Luther King Jr. and George Washington, is an insult to our modern values.

It is true that many of the most instrumental figures in our nation’s history committed acts that are despicable by today’s standards. Many of our founding fathers owned slaves, like Thomas Jefferson — and, as a Smithsonian Magazine piece points out, “embraced the worst forms of racism to justify slavery.” Former president Franklin Delano Roosevelt, beloved and revered for his New Deal programs, also signed the executive order to send over 100,000 Japanese Americans to internment camps. Even Aristotle thought Asiatic barbarians were naturally slavish.

Yet, the recognition that some great leaders have also committed cardinal sins should not be a reason to keep the memorialization of these figures in place. It justifies the opposite. The renaming of Columbus Day is not an attempt to expunge the parts of history that run contrary to modern values. It is, instead, an attempt to correct the revisionist history that so often allows us to forget the darker side to our collective past. It recognizes that early American history is written by colonial winners, who have every reason to glorify their conquest and genocide — but that does not mean that we should continue the tradition. It ensures that future generations engage in thoughtful conversation about our national history and who we should choose to celebrate. Most importantly, it is a signal of respect toward Native Americans, for whom Columbus Day and Thanksgiving have only added emotional insult to centuries of injury.

The effects of the the City Council’s decision certainly comes with political consequences. The Wall Street Journal  Editorial Board posited, “We wonder if the council knows it has given President Trump a political gift.” And so it has — the president and political right will surely seize the name change as evidence of the leftist totalitarian regime of political correctness. But that is no reason to fail to stand up for what is right. Los Angeles is making a bold statement, even though it would not have been seen as so before Donald Trump’s presidency.

An insidious undercurrent ripples beneath the widespread conservative outrage at the renaming of Columbus Day — the notion that, just as removing Confederate general Robert E. Lee statutes will erase our national identity, so too will changing Columbus Day. But that claim entails the troubling assumption that our national identity is dictated to us by a genocidal conqueror.

Over 500 years later, with the tribulations of American history, I think we are better than that. I am proud that Los Angeles, in the face of the rise of racial hatred and white supremacy, has determined that it is better than that. This is what resistance looks like.

Sonali Seth is a senior majoring in policy, planning and development. She is also the special projects editor of the Daily Trojan. “Point/Counterpoint” runs Wednesdays.


6 replies
  1. Thekatman
    Thekatman says:

    BTW Don. My dad retired as a CDR. US Navy in 1968. He flew the Douglas Navy jets in the 1950’s then moved over to multi-engine aircraft and finished his US Naval Aviator career as a C-130 jockey. He was born in Norfolk, VA and we were stationed at Norfolk NAS Sept 1961 – August 1965. My sister and I went to St. Pius X Catholic School. I used to FLY4FUN. So we do have something in common. :-)

  2. Don Harmon
    Don Harmon says:

    Nothing wrong with “National Indiginous Peoples” Day, but I see no reason to delete Columbus Day, George Washington’s Birthday or any other holiday that honors our country. The Confederation, its officials, officers and soldiers sought to destroy the Union, so one can see that the time to honor that act is over. As part of history, that deserves preserving and displaying Confederate art and sculpture – in museums.

    Columbus and Washington made us possible, and if both acted according to what was moral and ethical in their time, but no in later times, that is no reason to repudiate them or remove display of the honors we owe them.

    • david berl
      david berl says:

      Columbus?? his nefarious rule over helpless natives……..the murder, the rapes, the forced pregnancies, the robbery…….and so on……..is NOTHING to be celebrated and should be studied as what NOT to do………..
      Washington is fine….a hero…….trying and succeeding in enabling freedom and liberty……..
      Columbus? all he did was provide a helpless group of people as victims for sex crazed, uncut Spaniards to spread their degenerate seed…….and to kill, murder. destroy and violate lands and people they should have studied and respected…
      You are WRONG…..completely and severally…..too bad you cant be prosecuted for……..” opinions “

      • Don Harmon
        Don Harmon says:

        Dave, Are you serious? Or being sarcastic? I genuinely cannot tell. If serious, I guess some would agree with you, but it then becomes your moral duty to leave the US and go live elsewhere, lest you be considered profiting from the sins of Christopher Columbus.

    • Thekatman
      Thekatman says:

      Wrong in the Civil War comment Don. The South didn’t invade the North. The North fired the first shot at FT Dumpster from tax ship that was there to collect the 40% taxes for being a part of the Union. The North had more black slaves and tested them poorly compared to the Southerners who treated their slave very well, all things considered. The northern bias of our education system has done you and most kids in America a disservice. The liberals changed they history books around 1960. Money and power is what caused the Civil War. The North wanted more money from the southern businesses and stayed, and they wanted to take away the power of the purse from the southern states. The northern states bureaucrats were a bunch of conniving, nefarious creeps.

      • Don Harmon
        Don Harmon says:

        Thanks, Katman, for your interesting and unique view of US history at that time. I learn something every day from the comments here at this website.

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