For the past 81 years, Americans have celebrated Columbus Day on the second Monday of October. That won’t change this year, but a growing number of cities are seeking to abolish the traditional holiday and replace it with a day that acknowledges and celebrates the millions of people who were already living here when Christopher Columbus arrived.
This year, the recast holiday known as Indigenous Peoples Day will take place in at least nine cities across the United States, including in Albuquerque, N.M., Anadarko, Okla., Portland, Ore., St. Paul, Minn., and Olympia, Wash., according to the Associated Press.
Last year, the Seattle City Council unanimously voted to change the federal Columbus Day holiday to Indigenous Peoples Day, making it the second major U.S. city after Minneapolis to adopt the change, according to Reuters.
The holiday’s new designation follows a decades-long push by Native American activists in dozens of cities across the country to abolish Columbus Day, and they have had mixed but increasingly successful results, according to the AP.
The next community to consider the change is Oklahoma City, where local leaders are scheduled this week to vote on a bill implementing Indigenous Peoples Day, according to NBC affiliate KFOR.
“This is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time,” Sarah Adams-Cornell told the station last month. “The fact that our country, our state and our city celebrate this holiday around this man who murdered and enslaved and raped indigenous people and decimated an entire population.”
In cities that have implemented a new holiday, activists described the change as the first step in a larger effort to reclaim a more accurate telling of history. For those communities, parades celebrating Columbus ignore a violent past that led to hundreds of years of disease, colonial rule and genocidal extermination following the Italian explorer’s accidental trip to the Americas, according to the AP.
“For the Native community here, Indigenous Peoples Day means a lot,” Nick Estes of Albuquerque, who is involved in planning the city’s Indigenous Peoples celebration scheduled for Monday, told the AP. “We actually have something. We understand it’s just a proclamation, but at the same time, we also understand this is the beginning of something greater.”
In a blog post published by the Huffington Post, Bill Bigelow, co-director of the Zinn Education Project, which “promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country,” explained why many historians and indigenous communities find Columbus’s legacy so troubling.
“Columbus initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in early February 1494, first sending several dozen enslaved Taínos to Spain,” Bigelow wrote. The following year, Columbus ramped up his attempt at making slavery a profitable enterprise, by rounding up 1,600 Taínos, sending the “best” 550 of those to Spain and telling his fellow colonialists they were free to take whoever remained.
“Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold,” Columbus wrote.
Congress made the second Monday of October a federal holiday honoring Columbus in 1934.. The effort to rename the day began to see results in 1990, when South Dakota renamed Columbus Day to Native American Day, according to the AP. Two years later, Berkeley, Calif., began observing Indigenous Peoples Day.
Columbus Day supporters argue that the explorer symbolizes “centuries of cultural exchange between America and Europe,” according to the AP. But in years past, supporters of the holiday, such as Anna Vann — a member of the Sons of Italy’s Denver Lodge — have been unable to ignore the controversy surrounding the holiday.
“It’s been a struggle to even get people to come and attend the parades as spectators,” Vann said. “It’s a celebration of when the Europeans came over and started their lives here. We wouldn’t be where we are today if it weren’t for this history.”
The effort to change Columbus Day’s designation in Seattle last year provoked outrage among some Italian Americans there, Reuters reported.
“Italians are intensely offended,” Seattle native Lisa Marchese said. “For decades, Italian Americans celebrated not the man, but the symbol of Columbus Day. That symbol means we honor the legacy of our ancestors who immigrated to Seattle, overcame poverty, a language barrier and above all, discrimination.”
This post, originally published on Oct. 11, has been updated.