Editorial: Columbus Day needed a change

Published 10:15 am Monday, April 28, 2014

Renaming Columbus Day sounds like a fine idea. It’s what Minneapolis approved last week. And South Dakota changed it in 1990 to Native American Day.

The federal holiday is frustrating more than anything. This is how it is generally celebrated:

People in general don’t get the holiday off from work, unless they work for a government entity or for banks, and they forget it exists. Folks walk up to their bank, city hall or county courthouse, pull on the doors and wonder why they are locked. Oh, yeah, they remind themselves, it’s Columbus Day.

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And then they go about their other business.

A Minneapolis city resolution renamed the holiday Indigenous People’s Day. One of the reasons put forth for changing the holiday was that Christopher Columbus didn’t discover America because the Native Americans were already here. What’s more, as Minnesotans know all too well, other Europeans from Scandinavia had visited before Columbus.

For most native tribes, the arrival of Europeans marked the start of widespread death by disease, war, cruelty and famine.

It’s not easy to truly grasp this horrific part of American history. To put it in perspective, consider that Nazi Germany dictator Adolf Hitler admired America’s extermination of Native Americans. Pulitzer Prize-winning author John Toland and other authors have documented it in biographies of Hitler. Some historians call the genocide the American Indian Holocaust. So does the National Congress of American Indians, which last year asked the Smithsonian to establish a National American Indian Holocaust Museum.

Yet we celebrate Columbus, the start of it all? It’s bewildering.

Right or wrong, Columbus is a sore spot in America, and as Minnesota is a state with stronger Native American ties than most states, it makes sense to change the holiday’s name, not just in Minneapolis but for all of Minnesota. At best, it should be changed nationwide. Or, if nothing else, at least get rid of the holiday altogether.