On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived on the island now known as the Bahamas and "discovered" the Americas. His exploration (read: colonization) has been commemorated as a federal holiday since 1937. In recent years, however, many Americans have opposed this celebration and instead proposed an alternative holiday: Indigenous Peoples' Day. Here's what you need to know about it.
1. Columbus, an Italian explorer, was originally sent by the Spanish King and Queen to explore Asia. He landed in the Americas (specifically, what is now known as the Bahamas) by accident. Later he landed in Cuba, which he thought was China, and in December found Hispaniola, which he identified as Japan.
2. In addition to landing there accidentally, Columbus was not even the first European to visit the “New World” — Viking explorers beat him there by hundreds of years in the 11th century.
3. Columbus brutalized and enslaved thousands of indigenous American people. Over the course of just two years, more than a hundred thousand native people died as a result of murder, suicide, or other violence inflicted following his arrival.
4. The effects of this colonization are still evident today. Native Americans face disproportionately high rates of poverty and unemployment as well as lower life expectancy and disease rates compared to the rest of the American population.
5. The first recorded Columbus Day was celebrated in 1792, although Columbus Day wasn’t designated a federal holiday until 1971.
6. Conversations about changing Columbus Day first began in the 1970s. “ The facts were always there about the horrors his arrival represented for so many, but they didn’t really begin to resonate until the civil rights movement,” William Fowler, a professor of American history at Northeastern University in Boston, told the Washington Post.
7. The First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance in Quito, Ecuador, sparked more debate about the day in 1990, and led to another conference held by Northern Californian Native American groups. Berkeley, California, became the first U.S. city to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day in 1992.
9. College campuses across the country also support this change. Several Universities — including Brown University, University of Utah, and Minnesota State University, Mankato — officially celebrate the day and students across the country have organized events on their campuses.
10. Americans across the country are commemorating Indigenous Peoples’ Day in many ways: In NYC, there’s an event on Randall’s Island that includes music and dancing, while Berkeley is holding their 25th annual pow wow and Indian market.
11. Even where celebrations aren’t readily accessible, countless people are expressing their support for today on social media — and you can, too, using the hashtag #IndigenousPeoplesDay.
To learn more about Indigenous issues, check out MTV's Look Different campaign.