Indigenous Peoples' Day

Second Monday in October—Is it Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

October 6, 2020

On March 20, 2020, Governor Jared Polis signed a bill abolishing Columbus Day, which is celebrated as a national U.S. holiday on the second Monday of October. Many Denverites were too concerned with the progress of the coronavirus pandemic to pay much attention to the bill. But the Colorado bill effectively ended Columbus Day in the state.

Why Take Issue with Columbus Day?

Columbus Day celebrates the day Italian explorer Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas on Oct. 21, 1492. Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World, however, ushered in a violent period of colonization.

Political science Professor Glenn Morris, director of the 4th World Center for the Study of Indigenous Law and Politics, explains why Indigenous and Black people oppose Columbus Day: “First, it is a holiday that celebrates Columbus, who was an African slave trader and who then also began the genocide against indigenous peoples in the Caribbean. He deserves no holidays, statues, or celebrations. Second, Columbus Day celebrates the invasion and colonization of the Americas, through the Doctrine of Christian Discovery, which is a U.S. legal doctrine that justifies the theft of Indigenous peoples’ territories and the destruction of indigenous nations to the present time.”

Morris also points out that Columbus Day did not become a national federal holiday until 1971. So who fought to keep the holiday? Proponents of maintaining Columbus Day as a state holiday argued that the holiday celebrates Italian American heritage.

The Colorado Compromise

Colorado had previously tried to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day seven times, but this change did not pass at the state level. Instead, various cities in Colorado—Denver, Durango, Boulder, and Aspen—chose to officially acknowledge Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

The state of Colorado was finally able to abolish Columbus Day in 2020 by replacing it with a new holiday on the first Monday in October that celebrates Frances Xavier Cabrini, an Italian American woman and patron saint of immigrants. This compromise eliminated honoring the explorer who set in motion the genocide of Native Americans while also appeasing Italian Americans who want to celebrate their heritage.

Our state now joins 12 other states and Washington D.C. in eliminating the holiday. Most of the states that abolished Columbus Day replaced it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Colorado has not adopted Indigenous People’s Day—although the city of Denver officially celebrates it on the second Monday of October.

Are We Celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day?

Yes and no. Oct. 12, 2020 marks Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the city of Denver but not in the state of Colorado.