A movement to change the name of the Columbus Day holiday to celebrate the history and contributions of Native Americans is taking root in many cities around the nation.
As the U.S. observes Columbus Day on Monday, it will also be Indigenous Peoples Day in at least nine cities for the first time this year, including Albuquerque; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; and Olympia, Washington.
Encouraged by city council votes in Minneapolis and Seattle last year, Native American activists made a push in dozens of cities in recent months to get local leaders to officially recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day. Their success was mixed.
The campaigns say the federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus — and the parades and pageantry accompanying it — overlook a painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs that followed the Italian explorer’s 1492 arrival in the Americas. The indigenous holiday takes into account the history and contributions of Native Americans for a more accurate historical record, activists have argued.
Columbus Day supporters say the holiday celebrates centuries of cultural exchange between America and Europe, commemorates an iconic explorer and honors Italian-Americans, a group that has endured its own share of discrimination.
Native Americans are the nation’s smallest demographic, making up about 2 percent of the U.S. population.
Congress set aside the second Monday of October as a federal holiday honoring Columbus in 1934.
South Dakota renamed Columbus Day to Native American Day in 1990, and it has been an official state holiday ever since. Berkeley, California, has observed Indigenous Peoples Day since 1992.
Parades and festivals that developed around Columbus Day have faced protests that are known for being confrontational, especially in Denver. Anna Vann, a longtime member of the Sons of Italy’s Denver Lodge, recalls protests during the 1992 parade, which marked the 500th anniversary of Columbus’ voyage, as the most unnerving and pivotal.
That year, protesters blocked the parade route for several hours, she said. After that, the parade wasn’t held again until 2000, and it has been difficult to make it the draw it once was, she said.
“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 Associated Press contributed to this article