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Indigenous Peoples' Day or Columbus Day? 

by Paul Abruzzo (Libraries) on 2023-10-06T15:22:00-04:00 | 0 Comments

I am always curious about the origin of holidays. This holiday has a particularly complicated and controversial history because it was initially designed to celebrate a figure who is either, depending on your political perspective, a subject to be honored for greatness, or reviled as morally repugnant. 

Within a few seconds, a standard internet search led me to this article (recently updated, but initially published 10 years ago). It’s from the Pew Research Center and conveys the complications of how this day is celebrated, and what it's named. For instance: 

“... only 16 states and the territory of American Samoa still observe the second Monday in October as an official public holiday exclusively called Columbus Day. (“Official public holiday” typically means government offices are closed and state workers, except those in essential positions, have a paid day off.) In four states, two territories and Washington, D.C., the day is an official public holiday but goes by a different name. Four other states and the U.S. Virgin Islands mark the day as both Columbus Day and something else. And in 26 states and the territory of Guam, the second Monday in October is pretty much like any other workday.”

Further down in the article, I read the claim that Colorado was the first state to celebrate Columbus Day over 100 years ago, and that it was initiated by the Knights of Columbus, an Italian-American culture organization. 

I wanted to learn more and find sources with, perhaps, more scholarly authority, and so I went right to The New School Libraries’ general search box on the homepage and simply typed in: Columbus Day and history. That yielded rich results. I scanned down to find what looked like a treasure: an article by Michel-Rolph Trouillot that appeared in 1990 in a journal Public Culture entitled, “Good Day Columbus: Silences, Power and Public History (1492-1892)” which I knew would be an intellectually dense treatment of the subject since his later book Silencing the Past: Power and the Production of History is considered a classic of historiography. 

I scanned the article and realized that the Pew piece I mentioned makes claims about the origin of the holiday that are probably not completely accurate, that the story is much more complicated and variegated (yet another lesson about the danger of culling information from internet searches without consulting scholarly sources). 

I first learned about Trouillot’s book watching Raoul Peck’s film series that aired on HBO called Exterminate All the Brutes. It is an unflinching interrogation of the history of colonialism, imperialism, capitalism, and racism. I found this four-part film amazing, a great spur for conversation about history and who tells it, etc., and if you haven’t seen it, you can watch it through one of our databases! It would be a great way to pass some time over this holiday weekend. 


MLA Citation: Abruzzo, Paul. "Indigenous Peoples' Day or Columbus Day?" This Led to That, The New School Libraries, 6 Oct. 2023,

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