Release Date: 
Monday, October 11, 2021

Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day

Image of sailing tools of the 15th century: sextant, compass, map, rope.

O n Monday, October 11, our nation celebrates Columbus Day, or, in some places, Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

Columbus Day

Columbus Day has been celebrated in the United States since 1792, to recognize Christopher Columbus’ landing and explorations on the west side of the Atlantic Ocean. Some viewed this as an initial discovery of the lands now known as America.

Columbus was born in Italy, but sailed under the sponsorship of the Spanish monarchy. Europeans were looking for sea routes to the Far East. Columbus wanted to find a new route to India, China, Japan, and the Spice Islands, from which he would be able to bring back valuable silks and spices. He knew the world was spherical rather than flat. He believed that by sailing west, instead of south and east around the coast of Africa, he would reach his destination more quickly.

In October 1492, he landed with three ships in what is now the Bahamas. Columbus made three subsequent trips to what was then called the New World. When he died in 1506, he still believed he had found a new route to the East Indies (Southeast Asia). This is the origin of the term “Indians” that was used for centuries to refer to Native Americans.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day

We know that the lands Columbus and other European sailors explored were already home to millions of people. Before European settlers arrived, scholars estimate that between 2 and 18 million people lived in the area now known as North America.

The European explorers of the time subjected the indigenous people to a great deal of exploitation and violence. Columbus returned to Europe from his first voyage with people he enslaved from the island on which he landed. That history has left a difficult legacy to this day.

For these reasons, some Americans believe that a holiday honoring Columbus is problematic. Columbus Day was established to celebrate the beginnings of American heritage. But the holiday does not acknowledge the people who already occupied the New World, much less how they were treated.

While Indigenous Peoples’ Day is relatively well known, it is not a federally recognized holiday.

Celebrations and observances

Some schools host educational programs on or near this day. Because Columbus Day is a federally recognized holiday, many government offices are closed, and U.S. mail will not be delivered.

At Henry Ford College, we are proud of our multicultural community, which includes race, national heritage, and expressions of religion, culture, history, and other forms of diversity.

We welcome every opportunity to learn about, and from, people who are different from us, including those whose heritage is indigenous to the United States, Latin America, and the Caribbean. This knowledge and recognition makes us stronger, and better able to support and connect with others. I encourage you to do that today.

Russ Kavalhuna
Henry Ford College