The United Nations created Indigenous People’s Day in 1994 and it’s observed on August 9th.
In the United States, cities like, Seattle and Minneapolis have renamed Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day. Hawaii observes Discoverer’s Day and South Dakota celebrates Native America Day on the Federal holiday Day of Columbus Day on Monday, October 10th. While California celebrates Native American Day on the fourth Friday of September.
The rest of the U.S. happily celebrates Columbus’ “discovery” of the Americas and the Caribbean, ignoring the atrocities done in his name. For me, Columbus Day just means feteing. It signifies Miami Carnival and jamming down de road. But, I digress.
As Culturally Responsive Educators, what are we supposed to do with this day? The answer depends on how gangsta you are.
As a Global History teacher, working with students who were over aged and under credited I went in on “Columbus Day,” we put Columbus on Trial, we read and watched videos that showed the depth of his atrocities. My favorite video being this one here that documents his arrival on the island of Hispaniola and the following genocide. This video is a part of a larger unit, wherein we look at the lives of the indigenous of the Americas before Columbus. We focus on the Tainos, Caribs, and Arawaks.
As I was looking for resources to share with you on IPD, I realized one glaring thing. Though this day is supposed to be about centering the lives, culture, and legacy of the indigenous, the focus was STILL on Columbus and his deeds.
See, that’s the thing about de-centering whiteness. Even in the attempt to celebrate the history and culture of non whites, we still end up telling the story of whites and in this case the story of Columbus.
Listen, I was guilty of it too. But I see this as a win. We are dismantling the story of oppression. The question is what are we replacing it with?
States like South Dakota, don’t just change these holidays without providing a resource to help teachers through this change. You can also find inspiration for learning about the indigenous here, here, and here.
There are several factors that go into how you will observe Columbus Day in your classroom:
- Is your school environment focused on social justice and positive racial identity development through education?
- Are your colleagues on the same page with you or will you be the odd ball out?
- Are your parents partners in the decolonizing education of their children?
- And on the gangsta scale, how gangsta are you? Are you a small “g” big “G” or an “OG”?
For my small “g’s” we feel you, and we suggest you take a tally of your students and their cultural backgrounds, if there is a large representation of your students connected to an American indigenous history, allow them to research their homelands and culture and share out about their customs and traditions in honor of IPD.
If you’re an big “G” in an environment supportive of big “G’s,” then gather with your colleagues and go ahead and put Columbus on trial. Investigate whether he was a hero or villain, have students use his own words to support their claim.
Now if you’re an “OG,” have your students investigate why we still celebrate Columbus Day in our public schools and how the continued celebration is used to perpetuate anti brown and blackness in this country and reaffirms white supremacy.
Whether you’re a little, big or original gangsta, you could reproduce that cut video. Ask your students to say the first thing that comes to their minds about Columbus before you begin your unit and then ask them again afterwards. That’ll let you know, the lasting effect of what you and your students shared during the observation of Columbus Day.
Whatever you choose, you’re going to need to begin planning right now, because this is more than a one day event.
And remember, we can celebrate indigenous people during Hispanic Heritage Month, on Indigenous People’s Day/Columbus Day, during Native American Month in November and throughout the year, through many perspectives.
And we at CREAD will be here to support you.
Deep Thinkers Only