To: The President of the United States and the 50 Democratic Senators that urged changing of the Washington Redskins name
Re: Columbus Day as a federal holiday
In the past two years, there has been a surge regarding a name change for the Washington Redskins NFL team. As a lifelong Washington Redskins fan, this happens every few years and we’ve come to expect it, really. However, in the past these efforts have not really gained much traction or have been pursued through the court system and have been thrown out for a variety of reasons. What is interesting and ultimately ironic in the most recent push is the involvement of you, as President of the United States or Senators.
This is ironic to me because you have apparently found it necessary to weigh in on the name of the Washington NFL team, but do nothing regarding Columbus Day, observed on the Monday in October closest to October 12, or make legitimate efforts to correct the outrageous acts committed by the United States government regarding the Native American tribes now living on reservations, mostly in the western United States. While Christopher Columbus’ journeys to the New World resulted in the discovery of this large landmass of the Americas as well as the islands of the Caribbean, it also led to the mass destruction of various Native American tribes due to the enormous influx of settlers from Europe and the economic interest that the various countries thought they might find. Christopher Columbus himself and his sailors were also responsible for significant atrocities committed against the Taino people, one of the native civilizations living in Cuba, Puerto Rico, Hispaniola, and various other islands of the Caribbean. As stated above, Columbus’ journeys led to a large migration to this new land mass from Europe. People left Europe for a variety of reasons, whether for religious freedom, economic gain, to get out of jail, or to simply start a new life. While some of the new settlements worked well with the various Native American tribes and civilizations that they encountered, many did not. This pattern continued as the colonies gained more territory and settlers, needing more and more land and becoming more and more greedy for the natural and mineral resources they were finding. The United States government simply followed this pattern, forcing many native people off the land they had known for centuries and onto reservations, many times with other groups that they were enemies of, and with significant economic and cultural differences (Indian Removal under President Andrew Jackson), after the discovery of gold in Georgia (and other places). After forcing these tribes onto reservations, massacring others, engaging in wars against others or inciting wars between various tribes, the United States government continues to ignore the plight of the Native Americans in this country and the issues they face including alcoholism, drug addiction, lack of education, lack of economic opportunities, and the list goes on.
Please do not respond to this letter by listing the various pieces of legislation you have voted for or signed into law regarding the Native Americans. Please also do not respond by telling me that changing the name of the Washington Redskins would be a significant step in recognizing the cultures of the various Native American people groups. A more significant step in recognizing the cultures of these groups and admitting the wrongs that were committed against these people would be to stop having Columbus Day as a federal holiday and instead, follow the lead of places like Seattle and Minneapolis, cities that now have “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
As a former social studies educator for 14 years, learning about other cultures is one of the most important steps in coming to a broader understanding of the human experience and what unites us as people. It also helps students, and ultimately their parents, grandparents, etc. to have a more inclusive worldview. We need to tell the entire story of history, both positive and negative. Changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day would be a step in this direction. Additionally, it does not need to be a “federal holiday” which would imply that government offices would be closed, banks would be closed, and mail service would not function. Rather, it could be a day that the politicians serving in the United States Congress could go to these areas of the United States, especially if one exists in the home state of the Congressperson, to truly get an understanding of the issues facing these people and gain a better perspective of how to help resolve them. It could be a day that school children learn about the indigenous cultures in their local area, presently or historically, and the contributions and achievements, characteristics, etc. of those groups.