Celebrating Columbus Day Falling Out Of Favor

By: Jason Tarr Email
By: Jason Tarr Email

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Monday, October 8, 2012

Monday marked Columbus Day but for many people in KAKEland it's become just another day on the calendar. Few places and schools celebrate the day as they have in the past.

"It's kind of fallen off in enthusiasm," said Dr. Robert Owens, Associate Professor of History at Wichita State University. Owens has a specialization in Colonial, Revolutionary and Early American history.

Columbus Day first became a state holiday in 1906 in Colorado. It became a federal holiday in 1937. Because of Columbus' cultural heritage, the day is an event of pride for many Italian-Americans.

But many people now question why the holiday is even celebrated anymore.

There are efforts to change the celebration to a day dedicated to Native Americans. Another movement seeks to change the holiday's name to "Exploration Day."

"When we were kids, Columbus was kind of an outright hero and you didn't sort of talk about the unpleasant side of colonization so much," Owens said.

Native Americans have been talking about that unpleasant side for years. Many Native Americans see Columbus' arrival to the Americas in 1492 as the beginning of centuries of exploitation. But not until recent history has that viewpoint really floated to the top of the public discussion.

"It's probably not coincidental that the revision of Columbus' memory comes a couple decades after the Native American pride movement starts," Owens said. "You probably didn't hear people criticizing him in the 1920's."

Historians say the drumbeat further increased following that movement in the 1970's and hit a new peak in the 1990's leading up to the 500th anniversary of the voyage.

"This is when you really start to see a revision of Columbus and see him as the first conquistador rather than the first explorer," Owens said.

Around that time came a big cultural shift in South Dakota. The state did away with Columbus Day in 1989, instead it replaced the holiday with Native American Day beginning in 1990. Hawaii and Alaska also do not recognize Columbus Day.

Historians say it's anybody's guess what other changes, if any, may be on the horizon.

"Who knows, in 20 years the holiday may suddenly become popular again," Owens said.

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