Columbus or Indigenous People’s Day?

I grew up learning that October 10th was Columbus Day, a day we celebrate as a nation because “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue”- and discovered America! Leif Erickson was also in there somewhere, but basically this “discovery” was heralded as the start of many contributions that Italian-Americans had made. Don’t get me wrong, I know in an age of explorations, finding land they didn’t know about must have been pretty exciting. But with a handful of states now renaming the holiday as Indigenous people’s day, I think it reveals the other side of the coin. The newly discovered land was already inhabited by a people with an advanced trade system, agricultural management system, and practices that actually took care of the earth. (Dunbar-Ortiz) I wonder if we can see it as both?

Growing up, of course I was taught that there were Native “Indians” as they were called, or Indigenous people groups, but I don’t recall hearing there were upwards of 10 million that lived here when Columbus arrived (see article I reference from Little below). I learned of the Trail of Tears and other treacherous walks that many Indigenous nations were forced to take, but I never heard that there were federal decrees issued that would pay [white] people to scalp Indigenous peoples and kill them, all in the name of “winning the west”. Often. One even right after Thanksgiving was declared a national holiday.

Let’s just say learning actual truth about history has been sobering. I wish I had heard this – or wanted to learn it – earlier. 

President Obama, during his years in office, actually issued an apology to the Native Peoples. Did you know that? I didn’t, until I read the book “Unsettling Truths” this past summer.

The apology remained hidden in the Defense Appropriation Act of 2010. That makes no sense to me. Granted, 12 years ago I was knee deep in raising two teens and largely did not watch the news. Maybe I missed this being read from the capital steps. But it seems this should have been a much bigger deal for us?

In case you want to read it – the full text is here:

So when I think of how as Christians we often look at everything that we think is wrong in our country (and just mind you – we all have different views on what that is) – we tend to use 2 Chronicles 7:14, which reads:

 “If my people, who are called by my name, will humble themselves and pray and seek my face and turn from their wicked ways, then I will hear from heaven, and I will forgive their sin and will heal their land.”

I question whether or not our prayers have ever included repentance over treatment of Native Nations in the founding of our country? I spent a lot of time this summer reading books on just what was done as part of the “Doctrine of Discovery” to “win the west” – and let me tell you, it’s pretty sobering to read, and a heavy weight to come to grips with.

It is all too easy to think.. yeah, that was in the past, we need to move on! 

You know who doesn’t think that? Native Nations people who are trying to keep their heritage alive. People who, as a people group, have trauma in their story just to stay alive.

You see, we might know that personally, we cannot heal from the pain of our own past without revisiting it somehow- in counseling, in prayer (or both) – but even once that pain is healed, the memory stays, and we remain impacted because of what we went through.

I don’t know the full solution to heal this part of our land. Yet I think until we (the white European immigrant background people) can recognize and be willing to admit – and teach – that this too is part of the history of our nation, personally (and corporately) repenting, we will continue to repeat this mistake of ignoring the place they should have at the table – politically, educationally, and in the family of faith.

There is SO much more to this, I know I haven’t even scratched the surface. So today, I encourage you to do some learning. Below are some ways to do just that!

– Check out the map below to see the tribes that lived where you live now. Take a moment to think of the hundreds of years they lived and worked the land before anyone ever arrived. Say a prayer of thanks!

– Take a moment to recognize your lack of knowledge (and perhaps resistance to wanting to know more).

– Put a new book on your reading list that will help you understand what you didn’t read in history books, from their perspective. You might not agree with all their conclusions, but you will no longer be blind to what really happened. Two great ones are below, but your local library probably has a bunch as well.


Charles, Mark and Soong-Chan Rah. “The Ongoing Dehumanizing Legacy of the Doctrine of Discovery” InterVarsity Press. (Downers Grove, IL, 2019)

Dunbar-Ortiz, Roxanne. “An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States” Beacon Press. (Boston, MA, 2014)

Little, Becky. “What is Indigenous People’s Day?” Oct 6, 2017 updated October 8, 2021.

By Tama Nguyen

I'm an avid reader, tea drinker, and outdoor adventure seeker. I am convinced that God is still out to fix this broken world, and He uses us to do it. Chasing after things that matter...

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