Columbus Day Controversy

DUBUQUE – Just 15 minutes from Dubuque, a massive monument stands among other national figures such as Abraham Lincoln and George Washington.

“We in many ways romanticize Christopher Columbus without paying attention to what effects [he] had on the people that were already living here,” said Sergio Perez, director of the Intercultural Programs Office at Loras College.

At the Dickeyville Grotto in Wisconsin, a statue of Christopher Columbus stands in the midst of other United States icons.

A national holiday named after the explorer is celebrated on the second Monday of every October.

“[Columbus Day] was actually about trying to encourage acceptance of Italian Americans who were being discriminated against at the time,” explained Dr. Lisa Garoutte, an associate professor of sociology at Loras.

But in some places, Columbus Day has a whole different name: Indigenous Peoples Day.

“[The movement is] trying to center voices that we don’t always hear or know about,” said Perez.

Some states, including Minnesota, South Dakota, Vermont, and Alaska, and even some towns as close as Davenport and Iowa City have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day.

The nationwide movement follows some complaints that Christopher Columbus holds a negative connotation.

For some, Columbus statues bring up brutal images of Native Americans forced out of their land—often enslaved or killed in the process.

In turn, in some places, monuments of Columbus statues aren’t being shown the same dignity as other statues.

For instance, the state of Connecticut has recently seen multiple protests and vandalizations of Columbus statues.

“We’re in a cycle right now of heightened social movement, so there are more people protesting more things, and so I’m not surprised that we’ve seen this movement grow,” said Dr. Garoutte.

Columbus Day began as a federal holiday in 1937.

“We do a disservice though when we romanticize and believe that the one history we know is the only history,” said Perez.

But in 2017, some Americans are calling for a change.

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