What is Indigenous Peoples' Day and why should it replace Columbus Day?

For all they've endured, Native Americans should be celebrated.

"In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue!" Because of that, we celebrate Columbus Day!

Ask someone who Christopher Columbus is, and you'll get some variation on that chant about the man who "discovered" America. We're told this really romanticized story about a brave man who crossed the ocean to discover a brand new world.

Thanks, Chris! Sure, you can have a national holiday. You've earned it.


How America was settled, as told by "Schoolhouse Rock!" GIF from "Schoolhouse Rock!"

But, as we know, Columbus didn't so much "discover" America, as "land on an already inhabited continent and claim it as his own."

Did it take bravery to sail off into the unknown? Absolutely. But it's kind of disrespectful to the land's indigenous people to claim Columbus "discovered" it.


Image by AFP/Getty Images.

That, along with a host of other reasons — Columbus and his crew's penchant for murdering, raping, and enslaving the locals, for example — is why there's been a real push in recent years to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day in place of Columbus Day.

The idea of Indigenous Peoples' Day is starting to catch on in a number of cities across the country.

Seattle; Minneapolis; Albuquerque; Alpena, Michigan; Olympia, Washington; Anadarko, Oklahoma; Bexar County, Texas; St. Paul, Minnesota; Lawrence, Kansas; and Portland, Oregon have all made Indigenous People's Day a reality! Good for them!

A 2000 Columbus Day protest in Denver. Photo from Mark Leffingwell/AFP/Getty Images.

Why not just have a separate holiday for indigenous people? It kind of goes back to that whole "Columbus was a really bad dude" thing.

In Seattle's resolution to adopt Indigenous Peoples' Day in place of Columbus Day, they explained it like so:

"The City of Seattle has a responsibility to oppose the systematic racism towards Indigenous people in the United States, which perpetuates high rates of poverty and income inequality, exacerbating disproportionate health, education, and social crises."

The United States' history regarding the Native American population has been filled with everything from genocide to theft to systemic discrimination and exclusion. Throwing a party and parades for the guy who started that whole mess doesn't make things better.

And no one is saying that Christopher Columbus' contribution should be erased from history.

Columbus existed. He had a massive impact on history. But maybe he's not worth celebrating as some sort of savior or hero. If anything, this is a call to remember Columbus' history in a more thorough, accurate sense.

Image by Hulton Archive/Getty Image.

The mythology of Columbus is rewritten history and it's time that changed.

Just about anything learned in U.S. history classes frames everything as being a battle of good (America) versus evil (anyone we don't like). We frame ourselves as saviors in our contributions to wars and culture and technology and innovation.

For example, one of the most well-documented attempts to revise U.S. history has been an attempt to rebrand the Civil War as being about states' rights, taxes, or just about anything other than slavery.

Hey, I get it — no one wants to be like, "Remember that time we went to war because we wanted to own people? Yeah, that's embarrassing." So, Texas, for example, decided to just add that slavery was just a Civil War side issue (Just a side issue, guys! NBD! People make mistakes!) into its guidelines for textbooks.

Another example is how we talk about — or rather, don't talk about — the fact that the U.S. ran a bunch of Japanese internment camps around the time of World War II. We hear a lot about what happened at Pearl Harbor, us dropping bombs, and how we basically saved the rest of the world (You're welcome, BTW) in the process (Yay, America!). But we sure don't like to talk about parts that paint us in a less than pleasant light.

If those who don't learn from the past are doomed to repeat it, we're doomed.

We shouldn't erase history. We should embrace the real history of our nation — as ugly as it can sometimes be.

We must celebrate those who truly "discovered" the land. And that means honoring the indigenous people who were here before ol' Columbus came along.

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On an old episode of "The Oprah Winfrey Show" in July 1992, Oprah put her audience through a social experiment that puts racism in a new light. Despite being nearly two decades old, it's as relevant today as ever.

She split the audience members into two groups based on their eye color. Those with brown eyes were given preferential treatment by getting to cut the line and given refreshments while they waited to be seated. Those with blue eyes were made to put on a green collar and wait in a crowd for two hours.

Staff were instructed to be extra polite to brown-eyed people and to discriminate against blue-eyed people. Her guest for that day's show was diversity expert Jane Elliott, who helped set up the experiment and played along, explaining that brown-eyed people were smarter than blue-eyed people.

Watch the video to see how this experiment plays out.

Oprah's Social Experiment on Her Audience www.youtube.com

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Dr. Jackie Sanderlin, who's worked in the education system for over 25 years.

Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience, says it can be difficult to create engaging course work that's applicable to the challenges students face. "I think that sometimes, teachers don't know where to begin. Teachers are always looking for ways to make learning in their classrooms more relevant."

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Valerie Anglemyer, a middle school teacher with more than 13 years of experience.

A new program for teachers that offers this network along with other resources is the WE Teachers Program, an initiative developed by Walgreens in partnership with ME to WE and Mental Health America. WE Teachers provides tools and resources, at no cost to teachers, looking for guidance around the social issues related to poverty, youth violence, mental health, bullying, and diversity and inclusion. Through online modules and trainings as well as a digital community, these resources help them address the critical issues their students face.

Jessica Mauritzen, a high school Spanish teacher, credits a network of support for providing her with new opportunities to enrich the learning experience for her students. "This past year was a year of awakening for me and through support… I realized that I was able to teach in a way that built up our community, our school, and our students, and supported them to become young leaders," she says.

With the new WE Teachers program, teachers can learn to identify the tough issues affecting their students, secure the tools needed to address them in a supportive manner, and help students become more socially-conscious, compassionate, and engaged citizens.

It's a potentially life-saving experience for students, and in turn, "a great gift for teachers," says Dr. Sanderlin.

"I wish I had the WE Teachers program when I was a teacher because it provides the online training and resources teachers need to begin to grapple with these critical social issues that plague our students every day," she adds.

In addition to the WE Teachers curriculum, the program features a WE Teachers Award to honor educators who go above and beyond in their classrooms. At least 500 teachers will be recognized and each will receive a $500 Walgreens gift card, which is the average amount teachers spend out-of-pocket on supplies annually. Teachers can be nominated or apply themselves. To learn more about the awards and how to nominate an amazing teacher, or sign up for access to the teacher resources available through WE Teachers, visit walgreens.com/metowe.

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