Columbus Day has become a fraught holiday in the United States, but you wouldn’t know it from President Trump’s official proclamation.
Published Friday on the official White House website, the statement heralds Christopher Columbus for “setting the stage for the development of our great Nation” and “inspiring countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions—even in the face of extreme doubt and tremendous adversity.”
Trump’s statement referenced Columbus’s Italian heritage and praised the manifold contributions of Italian Americans, including Columbus’s own contribution of the “critical first link in the strong and enduring bond between the United States and Europe.” (It became a federal holiday in 1937 after much lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal organization, and other prominent Italian Americans.)
But there was a conspicuous lack of reference to the impact of Columbus and other European explorers and colonists on indigenous populations—a key reason why the holiday has become controversial.
Previous U.S. presidents’ acknowledgements of Native American suffering in this manner have been varied. Barack Obama acknowledged the introduction of “previously unseen disease, devastation, and violence” to the group while Bill Clinton emphasized the partnership between Native Americans and European immigrants that eventually developed. Like Trump, George W. Bush chose to focus on European ties instead of Native American ones.
The last several years have seen widespread adoption of Indigenous Peoples’ Day, which will be celebrated by four American states and 53 American cities in lieu of Columbus Day this year. Indigenous Peoples’ Day has only been celebrated in most of these localities since 2014, and the groundswell for adoption is growing, with 23 of the 57 celebrators listed above joining this year.