WASHINGTON, D.C. — At the official National Columbus Day Celebration in Washington, D.C. on Monday, the pomp and circumstance was in full swing.
This year, though, the city itself wasn’t part of the party. A few days before, the D.C. city council voted to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day. The city joined more than 100 cities and a half-dozen states around the country that have chosen to honor Native Americans instead of the Italian explorer whose arrival brought conflict with indigenous people.
“Columbus has a complicated history, but there is not one figure in history that does not have a complex history,” said Anita Bevacqua McBride, vice chairwoman of cultural affairs for the National Italian American Foundation.
She said they don’t want to see Columbus Day disappear. Rather, they argue, there’s enough room on the calendar for both days.
“I think in an era of inclusion and greater understanding of the diversity of our history, I think that’s fair,” Bevacqua McBride said. “But it doesn’t in our mind, give license, to erase what he did in terms of exploration of the new world.”
Two miles away, at the National Congress of American Indians, Kevin Allis is happy to point out some of the mementos in his office.
“I’m very proud of this vest. This is my grandfather’s vest and my great-grandmother made it for him,” he said, pointing to a 100-year-old vest with intricate beading, hanging framed in his office. “That’s a very sentimental piece to my family and I.”
Allis said the change from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples' Day has been a long time coming.
“We’re not trying to rewrite history,” Allis said. “We’re just trying to make people take the time to look at what real history is and understand we play an important role in that.”
Competing roles in history that are still being debated over a holiday in the present.