Last week Los Angeles City Council has dumped Columbus day in favour of Indigenous Peoples Day, which will now take over the date on the Los Angeles calendar.
The change comes just in time for 2017 as Columbus Day is usually observed on the second Monday of October each year, with the actual anniversary on October 12th. The day has been celebrated by many countries throughout North, Central & South America but this is changing as more education about Columbus continues to become known.
Columbus Day celebrates the arrival of Columbus to America and like Australia; Indigenous people say that this date marks the beginning of an ongoing genocide. Columbus was directly involved in the kidnapping of Indigenous people for the slave trade, so any claim that he wasn’t involved in oppression would be incorrect.
The biggest opposition to the recent changes came from Italian-Americans who feel pride that a fellow countryman from Italy was responsible for being the first European to arrive in the continent, even though this may not be true. This has strong similarities with Australia as the main opposition to changing Australia day comes from British-Australians.
Now you might be thinking to yourself, why we are comparing Australia Day to Columbus Day. You may think that Columbus is to the Americas as James Cook is to Australia. There is a big difference as Columbus’ journey was more than just exploration, it was the beginning of colonization and settlement. On his first of 4 voyages, Columbus left 29 Europeans to create the very first European settlement in La Navidad, Haiti. During this voyage, Columbus kidnapped Indigenous people and took them back to Europe as slaves. So we are not comparing Columbus to Cook who first sighted Australia on April 20 1770. We are comparing Columbus to Arthur Phillip, who started the settlement of Australia on January 26th 1788.
In the America’s, Columbus Day has been slowly dying for many years. The L.A council joins a long list of other cities around the U.S who now call the day, “Indigenous peoples day”, which is not a day of celebration but a day of respect that highlights the impact the arrival of Europeans had on Indigenous people. Once again this has direct parallels with Australia day. Aboriginal people have long been calling January 26TH a national day of mourning. Argentina once celebrated Columbus Day as their national day, but since 2010, the day has been renamed as a day of diversity and is no longer considered a National day.
So how long do we have to wait for changes like this to happen in Australia? January 26th may have special meaning for those of British heritage, but it is unrealistic to expect people without British heritage to feel a sense of pride in the day. Of course, when it comes to us as Aboriginal people, the day is seen as a day of mourning and this is not going to change. Australia Day on January 26th has a limited future. There are even many Australians of British heritage who refuse to celebrate because they understand how disrespectful it is to our people.
Changing Australia day to a national day of mourning or Indigenous people day here in Australia is something that has to happen. Those who really feel the need to continue celebrating the arrival of the first fleet can do so. But just like religion, try to keep it to yourselves.
If you’re passionate about changing the date of Australia day, help kick-start the conversation by sharing this article. The more people who are talking about it, the more chance we have of getting the date changed faster.