Columbus Day, claiming a neutral celebration of this military merchant from Italian heritage has always been a contested historical event, from the day of "arrival" until the present.
The history of this holiday reveals much about US racism and the power of assimilation. Columbus day originated in 1934 to celebrate Italian Americans amid anti-Italian sentiment. Italians were not yet white, or they experienced "whiteness of a different color" and were Catholic, which might have been worse. According to the book by Mathew Frye Jacobson, Roots Too: White Ethnic Revival in Post-Civil Rights America, these feelings of ethnic revival emerged again in the 1970s as a white backlash to the post-WWII civil rights and anti-colonial movements.
Consider that the attempted genocide of Indigenous peoples, justified by European philosophers and religious clerics, meant progress for European nations and people. Extermination through war, disease, abandonment, boarding schools, and other forms of organized violence by state and civilian groups also meant development and prosperity for those groups enacting violence and benefitting from the "free land."
It is not simply the action of Columbus or other European military explorers but the ongoing legacies concerning the ideas, logic, and assumptions about humanity and civilization, about whose bodies and communities were to be treated as savage brutes. Brutes were to be annihilated, through elimination or assimilation; the latter another form of death.
In December 1994, the United Nations General Assembly proclaimed that August 9th would be the International Day of the World's Indigenous Peoples. During the past 30 years, cities across the US have informally and formally adopted decrees that recognize the controversy of Columbus Day, some renaming the day accordingly.
The history of the struggle for international recognition of Indigenous people's sovereignty can also be traced to the political movements that founded International Indian Treaty Council. "The IITC was founded in June 1974 at a gathering on the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota attended by more than 5000 representatives from 98 Indigenous Nations. The symbol of the sacred pipe uniting the hemisphere was chosen by the elders to represent the common bonds of spirituality, relationship to the land and traditional culture shared by all Indigenous Peoples."
The founding of the IITC was an extension of the Red Power movement of the 1960s and 70s. Struggling to regain the land, have treaties honored, and defend against the violence of the US government and agents empowered by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, the next step was the international arena.
"In 1977, IITC became the first Indigenous Peoples' organization to be recognized as a Non-Governmental Organization (NGO) with Consultative Status to the United Nations Economic and Social Council. In 2011, IITC was the first to be upgraded to General Consultation Status in recognition of its active participation in a wide range of international bodies and processes to ensure that the rights of Indigenous Peoples are recognized, respected and upheld."
Getting International Indigenous People's day recognized by USian society has been a struggle in the streets and the courtrooms. The international recognition of Indigenous people's sovereign rights as Nations results from generations of urban grassroots and reservation-based movements in regions across the continent, where the day is just one political issue among many.
As the New York Times reported, "Audra Simpson [Kahnawake Mohawk], professor of anthropology at Columbia University, points to 'the pipelines and fracking projects running through our territories' and 'the ongoing and disproportionate violence directed at Indigenous people, especially women, girls, and trans.' The interior secretary Deb Haaland, the first Native American to hold that post, had made that violence a priority with the establishment of a Missing and Murdered Unit within the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Ms. Simpson noted."
Recently, Haitian filmmaker, Raoul Peck, produced the four-part documentary series Exterminate all the Brutesfor HBO. The series visually examines the ideologies, logic, and laws that justified genocide, destruction, kidnapping, and slavery, including the ongoing legacies of these organized violences.
"Through his personal voyage, Peck deconstructs the making and masking of history, digging deep into the exploitative and genocidal aspects of European colonialism — from America to Africa and its impact on society today. Exterminate All the Brutes revisits and reframes the profound meaning of the Native American genocide and American slavery, and their fundamental implications for our present….Through a sweeping story in which history, contemporary life, and fiction are wholly intertwined, the series challenges the audience to re-think the very notion of how history is being written."
Check out the following books for the research on which the series is based: Sven Lindqvist's Exterminate All the Brutes, Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz'sAn Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, and Michel-Rolph Trouillot's Silencing the Past.
On the murder and neglect of Indigenous women in Canada, and stories of resilience and survival, see, Keetsahnak /Our Missing and Murdered Indigenous Sisters, edited by Kim Anderson, Maria Campbell, and Christi Belcourt.
You might also check out Our History Is the Future: Standing Rock Versus the Dakota Access Pipeline, and the Long Tradition of Indigenous Resistance, by Nick Estes.