Tensions remain between native people and Columbus' legacy

Monday's federal holiday to Christopher Columbus highlights the continuing divide between those who see the explorer as an example of Italian American history, and those who are horrified at an annual tribute that neglects native people whose lives were forever altered by colonialism.

Tensions remain between native people and Columbus' legacy

National calls for racial equality prompted communities across the U.S. to take a closer look at Columbus' legacy in recent decades -- replacing or pairing it with Indigenous Peoples Day.

Friday's proclamation by President Joe Biden of the "Indigenous Peoples Day" was the first in a series of presidential proclamations. This is the biggest boost to efforts to refocus federal holidays like Columbus.

However, activists, including members from Native American tribes, claimed that Columbus' formal holiday has been stopped by politicians and organizations focusing solely on the Italian American heritage.

"The opposition has tried painting Columbus as a kind and generous man, similar in style to how white supremacists have portrayed Robert E. Lee," Les Begay of Dine Nation, cofounder of the Indigenous Peoples Day Coalition of Illinois said. He was referring to the Civil War general, who led the Confederate Army.

Columbus's arrival triggered centuries of exploration and colonization in Europe by European nations. This brought violence, disease, and other suffering to the native people living in the Western Hemisphere.

Begay stated, "Not honoring Indigenous Peoples on this Day just continues to erase history, our contributions or the fact that we are the first inhabitants in this country."

Since the 1990s, tension over these two holidays has been raging across the country. The debates over monuments or statues of the Italian explorer are similar to Philadelphia's last year, when a box was placed over a Columbus statue by the city in response to the death of George Floyd (a Black man) by a Minneapolis police officer. Protesters opposed to racial injustices and police brutality against people with color rallied for several months in summer 2020.

George Bochetto of Philadelphia, a Philadelphia lawyer, has been fighting Democratic Mayor Jim Kenney to uncover the statue. He said Saturday that many felt attempts to remove it were an attack against Italian-American heritage.

Kenney had previously signed an executive decree changing the city’s annual Columbus Day holiday into Indigenous Peoples Day. Monday will be the city's first holiday under the new title.

Bochetto stated that he had a mayor who is doing everything possible to attack the Italian American community. He cancelled its parade and removed statues.

Kevin Lessard, Kenney spokesperson, stated that the statue should be kept in its original box "in the best interests and public safety for all Philadelphians."

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