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Minneapolis Renames Columbus Day As Indigenous People's Day

Columbus Day will be designated as Indigenous Peoples Day in Minneapolis, which has become one of several U.S. cities to make the change. Here, a member of the Cowichan Tribes holds her hand up in prayer during a 2011 Native American protest against Columbus Day in Seattle.
Elaine Thompson

Minneapolis has designated the second Monday of October, the federal Columbus Day holiday, as Indigenous Peoples Day. The city council adopted the plan after hearing concerns that hailing Christopher Columbus as the discoverer of America is inaccurate and ignores the history of indigenous people.

Last week, Indigenous Peoples Day supporter and Lakota activist Bill Means told Minnesota Public Radio that the story that Columbus discovered America was "one of the first lies we're told in public education."

He expanded on that idea Friday.

"We discovered Columbus, lost on our shores, sick, destitute, and wrapped in rags. We nourished him to health, and the rest is history," Means told MPR. "He represents the mascot of American colonialism in the Western Hemisphere. And so it is time that we change a myth of history."

Similar measures that rename or replace Columbus Day are already in place in other parts of the U.S., from South Dakota to Berkeley and other California cities. Several states, such as Alaska, Hawaii, and Oregon, do not observe Columbus Day.

The federal holiday has a long and complex history, including an 1892 proclamation by Benjamin Harrison and its establishment as a federal holiday in 1937. Many came to see Columbus Day "as a way for Italian Americans to be accepted by the mainstream," as NPR's Code Switch blog has reported.

Now the holiday is gaining a new identity in Minneapolis, as part of what the text of the resolution says is the city's effort "to better reflect the experiences of American Indian people and uplift our country's Indigenous roots, history, and contributions."

According to MPR, the city council gave its unanimous support to the Indigenous Day measure after it was introduced by eight council members, led by Alondra Cano.

"The American Indian Movement emerged in the 1960s from the streets of south Minneapolis, a longtime cultural crossroads for American Indian communities in the Midwest," MPR reports.

But MPR's Curtis Gilbert adds, "Council President Barbara Johnson noted that some of her Italian-American constituents are 'somewhat offended' by the city's snub of the Genoa-born explorer."

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Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.
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