While most students know Christopher Columbus as the European explorer who discovered America, his less glamorous history is often overlooked.
Columbus Day has become a controversial national holiday because of the immense loss of Indigenous and Native American lives that resulted from his arrival. In fact, he almost killed all 250,000 Taino Native Americans through transmitting diseases after his “discovery” of America.
SPS junior Khalia Moke-Sakamoto is the co-president of the Native American and Indigenous Students Group at NYU, and she said that Columbus Day does not exist for them. Moke-Sakamoto believes that the university should officially change this day to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” following the lead of other universities.
“Certain states and cities do not recognize Columbus Day, so that is a step, but federally recognizing it as Indigenous Peoples’ Day would be ideal,” Moke-Sakamoto said. “Indigenous Peoples’ Day … is a time that we celebrate the existence and continuous resistance of our people. It’s also a time for us to educate others about the true history of Christopher Columbus because many seem to be ignorant about the truth. The United States government furthers a cultural and societal insensitivity by continuing to honor a murderer and rapist.”
Steinhardt freshman Riley Lopez agreed that the U.S. shouldn’t celebrate a man who set the stage for genocide.
“Since the discovery of North America in 1492, its indigenous people have suffered massacres, torture, sexual abuse, systematic military occupation, forced removal from their homes and even outright policies of extermination,” Lopez said.
Although NYU refers to Columbus Day as “fall break,” Lopez said that he is ashamed of the school’s stance.
Treasurer of NAISG Fernando Flores-Cabrera said even though NYU does not formally celebrate Columbus Day, members of NAISG would like to see the University recognize Oct. 10 as Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.
“At the end of the day, Columbus Day is much like Labor Day, in the sense that for most it is a passive holiday that acts as an extra day off of work or school, but for the Indigenous Peoples’ of America, it means so much more.”
NAISG has been holding conversations with deans of different NYU schools, with hopes that the university recognizes Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and on Oct. 8, NAISG and allies of the Native American and Indigenous community held a protest against Columbus Day in Washington Square Park. The group also included recognition of this day on the Black & Brown Coalition’s Demands List.
“These conversations as well as the overall feel of the potential change have been overtly optimistic, and I expect to see a change within the next year,” Flores-Cabrera said. “Communities across the nation, most recently Denver and Phoenix, have taken steps to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead, and it makes me hopeful knowing that other communities will feel obligated to follow their lead.”
A version of this article appeared in the Tuesday, Oct. 11 print edition. Email Jemima McEvoy at [email protected]