The cities turning against a controversial historical figure

CityLab Daily

Cancel Columbus: In the lead-up to Columbus Day on Monday, more U.S. cities have been moving to rename the holiday Indigenous Peoples' Day, in line with what some local governments have done in the recent past (though not without protest by Italian Americans). This year, the controversial U.S. holiday comes in the midst of a national reckoning over America's legacy of racism. While the history of violence and discrimination against Native Americans isn't the central focus of recent Black Lives Matter demonstrations or even many campaigns to tear down Confederate monuments, both movements have renewed momentum for Native activists, who won some important victories this year.

Christopher Columbus statues were removed in major cities like Chicago and Detroit this summer, while art commissions in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia have recently voted to do the same. Washington, D.C.'s football team, facing years of mounting pressure, finally ditched its derogatory team name. And while not a result of this year's protests, the U.S. Supreme Court ruled in July that about half of the land in Oklahoma fell under Native jurisdiction — a landmark decision with far-reaching implications for tribal populations.

But the fight is far from over. Native Americans still face some of the worst public health and economic crises, which have only been made worse by Covid-19's disproportionate impact on them. They also face steep hurdles to voting this year. The U.S., meanwhile, has yet to fully acknowledge its history of seizing land from Indigenous communities. (Check out this extensive map of Native territories featured this week in Laura Bliss's MapLab newsletter.) Perhaps what has always been an inconsistently observed holiday celebrating the Italian explorer can become a day to amplify calls for long-overdue changes. From the CityLab archives: How Cities Turned Against a Controversial Holiday

-Linda Poon

More on CityLab

This Land Is Your Land: A City Returns a Stolen Island to a Native Tribe
The Wiyot Tribe was driven from California's Duluwat Island in 1860. After decades of lobbying by the tribe, the Eureka City Council returned it.
Here's D.C.'s Memorial for Native American Veterans
Unlike other war memorials in D.C., the National Native American Veterans Memorial does not highlight a specific conflict, but rather an entire people.
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