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Forum editorial: Time right for a new holiday

The Fargo City Commission did the right thing when it voted to observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. Monday's vote to make the change embraced the recommendation of the city's Native American Commission, whose chairman said the ...

The Fargo City Commission did the right thing when it voted to observe Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day. Monday’s vote to make the change embraced the recommendation of the city’s Native American Commission, whose chairman said the aim wasn’t offensive, yet was unflinching in underscoring atrocities caused by the explorer and contributions made by indigenous people.
The only dissenting vote in the 4-1 decision came from Commissioner Dave Piepkorn, who called the resolution “divisive” and suggested Native Americans should be satisfied with a national holiday called Native American Heritage Day. The city is sending the right message by no longer participating in a holiday that honors such a deeply flawed symbol as Columbus.
Inevitably, there are those who complain that the city leaders are indulging in feel-good messaging and are trying to revise the history books. Those who cling to this misguided notion probably are ignorant of the myths that took root in history’s exalted view of Columbus.
Many of those myths were manufactured by Washington Irving, a popular writer in the early 19th century.
One of the whoppers in Irving’s idolizing biography was his portrayal of Columbus as being “extremely desirous of dispelling any terror or disgust that might have been awakened,” in relating the escape of a group of Indian captives. The truth, as many know today, was much darker – Columbus enslaved Native Americans, many of whom died in captivity; some who couldn’t meet gold quotas had their hands cut off as punishment.
Irving’s best-selling biography of Columbus, published in 1828, came a few decades before a movement to counter anti-Italian sentiments that were common and occasionally violent. The glorified Columbus seemed like a perfect vehicle.
Benjamin Harrison was the first president to call for a national observance of Columbus Day, in 1892, the 400th anniversary of the Italian explorer’s accidental “discovery” of the Americas. Columbus Day didn’t become a national holiday until 1937.
By observing Indigenous Peoples Day, Fargo joins a growing list of cities that are opting to honor the often-overlooked contributions of native peoples – instead of a man whose actions were so detrimental to them.
It doesn’t mean we’re forgetting our history. Retiring Columbus Day means we’re looking at our history in a more objective,
clear-eyed way. It sends an important message.

Editorials reflect the views of Forum management and the Editorial Board.

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