In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He landed in North America, where he hurt some indigenous people, too.
After intense debate, the Tempe Undergraduate Student Government Senate passed Bill 44, which would change Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day on the Tempe campus. Sen. Aman Aberra wrote the bill in response to a student organization that gathered 400 signatures in support of the change. Opinions within USG appeared to be split three ways and seemed to mirror the beliefs of the student body. One group of senators believed that the bill had no purpose, purporting political correctness to no greater cause. Another group asserts that the change would be a way of remembering indigenous populations that were nearly wiped out following the presence of Spanish conquistadors. And then there were some senators that told The State Press they would even consider supporting a bill that “eliminated recognition of the day altogether on the Tempe campus.”
For most of us, rarely does Columbus Day pass without some recognition of the genocide against Native Americans. When we recognize the holiday as Columbus’ Day, we already remember the person who launched the trajectory that left Native Americans in the state they are today — living on reservations where they suffer from the lowest rates of education and health care in the country. The name change does little to alter the way students view the politics behind the holiday because most of us already take that into consideration.
Like the senators who spoke against the bill, Columbus Day is more a “part of American culture and history, representing the beginning of a new movement and society” and less about “supporting the decimation of indigenous cultures.” The holiday is a time we celebrate the first presence of western civilization in the Americas — an admittedly problematic presence that did pave the way for our current existence here today. For that reason, the holiday is a day for grievance and celebration — grievance for the deaths that happened, but celebration for the so-called “beginning” of American culture.
The bill appears to be symbolic in nature and well-intentioned, but does little to educate students or make significant reparations to the Native American groups affected. As far as students can tell, the bill is too localized to make a difference. Considering how it will only take effect on the Tempe campus, it won’t be part of a larger initiative that will be impactful to students or the University community.
It’s important to note that despite the bill’s ineffectiveness and allegations of needless political correctness, the bill comes from a good place. It attempts to respect a minority that was ignored in the past. But if only the emphasis were on education — and not on political correctness — perhaps USG could implement more meaningful change. As of this point, University leaders expect students will automatically experience a shift in outlook just because a name change occurred. They won’t be doing anything to assist that mental transition by educating students. If that’s the case, then the “Indigenous People Day” holiday will be as meaningless as “Columbus Day.” Well, unless students get a day off.
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