Milwaukee County Executive Chris Abele proclaimed October 9, 2017 as Indigenous Peoples Day in Milwaukee County.
Milwaukee County joins more than 20 communities nationwide, including the City of Madison and Dane County, which will now commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead on the same day as the federal Columbus Day holiday.
“I’m incredibly proud that Milwaukee County is officially recognizing and appreciating the contributions of native thought, culture, and technology in our society,” County Executive Chris Abele said. “I’m also proud that the next generation of Milwaukeeans cares so deeply about learning our true history and using their voice to enact change.”
Around the United States, the second Monday of every October has nationally and traditionally been known as Columbus Day since 1937. Milwaukee joins such cities as Los Angele, Seattle, Phoenix, and Denver along with the states of South Dakota and Vermont in changing how the holiday is observed.
Ithaca, New York, has a local interest in the change, because it sits on what used to be the lands of the Cayuga Nation and the Haudenosaunee Confederacy. Ithaca wants to be more conscientious of the contributions made to their local community by Native Americans.
Many have strong opinions on changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Native American activists believe that the celebration of Columbus Day is the “celebration of genocide of indigenous people.” For Native Americans, Christopher Columbus’ arrival in North America signified the beginning of the atrocities and destruction that they experienced.
There is one group that has been actively fighting against the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Some Italian-Americans are strongly against changing the holiday. They claim the potential change is “an affront to their heritage.”
“I have no problem with it. I also happen to be an Italian-American. The one problem we have with the proclamation is it ignores the 900-pound gorilla in the room and that’s Columbus Day,” said historian Dominic Candeloro. “You’re replacing the traditions of one ethnic group with the traditions of another ethnic group.”
Candeloro believes Indigenous Peoples’ Day should be celebrated in conjunction with Columbus Day. In some cities, this is still possible. L.A. has declared October 12th to be Italian Heritage Day. It was in 1492, on October 12th that Columbus arrived in the Bahamas.
“History is written by victors, and promulgated by their descendants,” wrote Robin Abcarian. But now there is a call to correct the narrative of the victors to more accurately represent history. This has been seen around the country with the call to change Columbus Day and with the removal of Confederate soldier statutes.
The story told to children in schools about Columbus day is traditionally told as a happy one. By giving the story this narrative, author Howard Zin believes it serves as a justification of the genocide of an entire group of people.
By changing the narrative of the story to include the side of Native American’s it may be possible to erase the “whitewashed American history curriculum.”