President Biden Proclaims Both Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day

On Oct. 8, 2021, President Joseph R. Biden proclaimed Monday, Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day and Columbus Day.

For the last 50 years, the second Monday of October has been observed as Columbus Day. It became a federal holiday in 1934. But for the first time, a US President has also proclaimed Oct. 11 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Columbus Day 2021

Last year, in 2020, former President Donald J. Trump only recognized Columbus Day. It is a day that celebrates Christopher Columbus’ Spanish exploration of the Americas. The observance of Columbus Day has long received criticism for celebrating European colonization and destruction of indigenous people, cultures, and societies in the Americas.

“While he intended to end his quest in Asia, his 10-week journey instead landed him on the shores of the Bahamas, making Columbus the first of many Italian explorers to arrive in what would later become known as the Americas,” said Biden. And although Columbus was Italian-born, his work, as a European colonizer, was done under the Kingdom of Spain.

Biden then goes on to say, “Today, let this day be one of reflection — on America’s spirit of exploration, on the courage and contributions of Italian Americans throughout the generations, on the dignity and resilience of Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities, and on the work that remains ahead of us to fulfill the promise of our Nation for all.”

Many states in the US have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day entirely. Some of those states include Arizona, New Mexico, Oregon, and South Dakota. The Biden Administration instead opted to continue celebrating Columbus Day. But it did so while also proclaiming Indigenous Peoples’ Day for the first time.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2021

But both proclamations are contradictory to each other when considering that it was Spanish exploration led by Columbus that ignited the conquest of the Americas and destruction of indigenous peoples. It began in the Caribbean before extending to present-day Mexico. And, later, spread through the Americas as more European powers arrived.

In the proclamation of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the tragedy and reality about European colonization of Native America is more direct. “We must never forget the centuries-long campaign of violence, displacement, assimilation, and terror wrought upon Native communities and Tribal Nations throughout our country,” Biden asserted.

In addition, “On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we honor America’s first inhabitants and the Tribal Nations that continue to thrive today. I encourage everyone to celebrate and recognize the many Indigenous communities and cultures that make up our great country,” Biden said in the proclamation.

President Biden’s proclamation of Oct. 11 as both Indigenous Peoples Day and Columbus Day is a historical moment. But it also raises questions about the US and its relationship to the dark past of colonization, genocide, slavery, and racism.