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Trading Diseases for Corn Leads to Protests

Trading Diseases for Corn Leads to Protests
Columbus Statue in Chicago

While some people think of Columbus Day as a relaxing day off of school, there’s actually a lot of history hidden in the holiday. In American elementary schools teachers tell the story of Christopher Columbus, who in 1642 sailed the ocean blue finding America and unknowingly trading diseases for corn with the natives. But there’s so much more than that, and it’s still affecting Americans today.

In the past few years, many cities and states have pushed their leaders to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ day, simultaneously shifting the focus of the holiday from Columbus, the man who invaded North America, to the 60 million people who lived in North America before the Spaniards . On this year’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day on October 11, President Biden gave a proclamation on what that day is actually about.
“On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations,” he said.

This speech didn’t completely quiet the angry crowds in places like Illinois, who are still enraged that “the opposition has tried to paint Columbus as a benevolent man, similar to how white supremacists have painted Robert E. Lee,” said (Les Begay, Diné Nation member and co-founder of the Indigenous Peoples’ Day Coalition of Illinois).

Bay area protesters spoke out against the holiday, saying that it was disgraceful and disrespectful to have a holiday focused on a man who enslaved and sold Native Americans. Instead, as Biden said, they wanted to change the holiday to be about celebrating the strength and bravery of the native peoples.

Protesters raising their voices against Columbus Day

Some Italian Americans claim Columbus as an Italian (the city he was born in came before Italy, but is now a part of Italy) and they dislike how the explorer is now treated. In Chicago last year, a statue of Columbus was taken down. The public have defaced it multiple times in protest, once covering it with fake blood, until Mayor Lightfoot finally decided to take it out from the public view. This year, Italian Americans rallied to try to get this statue put back up as a salute to their heritage and traditions. ​​The Joint Civic Committee of Italian Americans has even brought a lawsuit, but there are no new developments as of now. The committee president, Ron Onesti said it’s, “about people taking away our one day that we have to celebrate our traditions.”
The problem with Biden’s proclamation is now people are beginning to wonder whether he made this statement to save the government’s image, to stop protests, or because the focus of the holiday should be on the strength of the Indigenous tribes of America during the time of colonization. This controversial holiday has sparked protests all across North America as multiple people groups feel this holiday is causing them to be misrepresented, or not represented at all.

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