By JOSEPH MARTIN
ONE FEATHER STAFF
RALEIGH – Gov. Roy Cooper (D) proclaimed the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, the day that the federal government has designated as Columbus Day. While the move, whether it’s done by states or cities, such as Asheville, is intended to commemorate the contributions and sacrifices of Native Americans, it does draw some controversy among those who feel that it should still be about the Italian explorer.
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D), an Italian-American, marched in Manhattan’s Columbus Day parade and defended the statue of Columbus to the Wall Street Journal. “The Columbus Monument is a powerful symbol of the Italian-American community and a testament to New York’s role in assimilating immigrants from all over the world in our state,” he said.
Native Americans have always disputed Columbus’ accomplishments, and have argued that to celebrate them is commemorating his documented cruelty and exploitation. Columbus’ landing in the Caribbean marked the beginning of decline among Native American tribes and the beginning of the Transatlantic slave trade.
Cooper’s proclamation states “American Indians, who have inhabited this land since long before their first contact with English settlers, share their knowledge of the land and its resources, and have continued to play a vital role in the development of our local communities, the state of North Carolina and the nation.”
“I applaud Gov. Roy Cooper for his proclamation,” said Principal Chief Richard G. Sneed. “I appreciate the governor’s sentiments that the state of North Carolina shares a positive relationship with the Eastern Band of Cherokee Indians, while recognizing that more work needs to be done to educate North Carolina citizens regarding Native issues.”
The governor further states, “Our state has enjoyed a positive relationship with the indigenous people of North Carolina and continues to grow in our shared progress. We honor and respect the heritage and the many cultural and economic contributions of our American Indian tribes and people. The state of North Carolina encourages all people to acknowledge the historic sacrifices of indigenous peoples and recognize their contributions to the emergence and development of our state, the nation, the free world and the global economy.”
The move is joined by one of tribes’ oldest advocacy organizations, the National Congress of American Indians (NCAI). While they acknowledge that many still recognize and celebrate Columbus Day, they joined a growing number of states and localities that are choosing to acknowledge Native Americans on this day. “Long before Christopher Columbus stumbled upon what he thought was ‘India,’ the first Americans sustained thriving societies across this country,” said NCAI President Jefferson Keel. “As we bring more awareness to this holiday, it is equally important to congratulate those who have risen to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day by acknowledging the rich histories, vibrant cultures, and resilience of contemporary tribal nations and peoples. Today is a day in which we all come together to respect our histories and unique heritage.”
NCAI passed a resolution in 2011 calling for the second Monday in October to be renamed. That resolution stated, “A true and accurate account of the residence and occupation of the Americas by Indigenous people since time immemorial, and long before Christopher Columbus sailed, is necessary to set the historical record straight and to respect the culture, language and traditional life ways of our Indigenous ancestors as Indigenous Peoples Day.”