As it currently stands, “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” exists as more of a counter-celebration to Columbus Day than it does to pay tribute to Native American history. The demonstrations that take place are usually not parades, but protests. They are not celebratory, but cynical, with the main purpose of tearing down Christopher Columbus’ legacy by scrapping all mentions of the great explorer from society. The consequences of this, whether intended or not, is the removal of a holiday that was established to give Italian Americans a sense of pride and belonging after their contributions were overlooked for far too long, the same recognition that Native Americans appear to be fighting for with their relentless push for Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
However, why does it have to be either-or? This type of counter-celebration that aims to hold two holidays on one day of the year acts to cheapen the observance of each, creating the need for a solution.
If only another day seemed appropriate to celebrate Native American heritage…
Well, today marks the annual celebration of Native American Heritage Day. President George W. Bush introduced the civil holiday in 2008 when he designated the Friday after Thanksgiving as a day to honor Native Americans in the United States. The Native American Heritage Day Act of 2008 specifically calls for an enhanced “understanding of Native Americans by providing curricula and classroom instruction focusing on the achievements and contributions of Native Americans to the Nation.” While this holiday is not universally known, it could bring an end to the perpetual controversy surrounding Columbus Day vs. Indigenous Peoples’ Day and give the Italian American community the opportunity to celebrate their heritage and achievements that they deserve.
Leveraging the Friday after Thanksgiving instead of the second Monday of October as the annual period to celebrate the achievements of Native Americans makes sense for several reasons. Not only would it no longer put two communities at odds with one another over the celebration of their culture, but making this change would ensure that each holiday falls in the respective month that is designated to that group. November has been known as Native American Heritage Month since 1990, while October has been historically known as Italian American Heritage Month to coincide with the celebration of Columbus Day since 1989.
Other days of the year could make sense to celebrate native communities as well, such as August 9th (International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples) or the Fourth Friday in September (Native American Day).
These alternatives have been suggested by the Italian American community for decades, repeatedly making it clear that we do not oppose the celebration of Native Americans, or any other group for that matter, but feel that we equally deserve a day to celebrate our roots.
One example of a group that has suggested this is the Italian-American Defense League (IADL) which “supports honoring indigenous people on the International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples in August, Native American Day in September, or Native American Heritage Day on the Friday after Thanksgiving, but not on Columbus Day. Italian Americans believe in lifting others up without putting others down.”
This sentiment is further echoed by Andre DiMino, an Executive of the Italian American One Voice Coalition, who stated that Native Americans already have dedicated times to celebrate their culture on “Aug 9., the day after Thanksgiving and actually the whole month of November. So why take away such an important day to American history and especially Italian Americans?” He also believes that eliminating Columbus Day would constitute a violation of the 14th amendment, which protects American citizens from being subject to “any law which shall abridge the privileges or immunities of citizens of the United States” or being denied equal protection of the law.
As you can see, there are a plethora of holidays from August-November for Native Americans to honor their heritage. All Italian Americans desire is the chance to do the same without it being diluted by protesters who are unaware of how Columbus Day was first celebrated in 1892 in the wake of the largest mass lynching in American history perpetrated against Italians in New Orleans. This idea that removing the holiday helps fight racism utterly contradicts the foundations upon which the holiday was built. In fact, the KKK led the initial charge to dismantle the holiday due to Columbus’ Italian and Catholic background.
We can choose to either finish the KKK’s bidding in an attempt to further divide the communities within the United States or to live in harmony where all ethnic groups have an opportunity to pay homage to their roots.
The choice is ours.