Sen. Shimabukuro Proposed Changing ‘Discoverer’s Day’ to ‘Indigenous People’s Day’

Rename ‘Columbus Day’ to Honor Indigenous People: A Day of Mixed Feelings
by Jacques Brunvil, Ka Leo, 12 Oct. 2015

Established as a federal holiday in 1937, Columbus Day has existed to celebrate the discovery of the New World by Christopher Columbus in 1492. Although celebrated on the same day, the second Monday of October, some cities and states (including Hawai‘i) honor the day under a different name or do not honor it at all.

In Hawai‘i, federal government offices are closed on Columbus Day whereas state, city and county government offices and schools are open for business. This is because the State of Hawai‘i does not recognize Columbus Day as a holiday, recognizing Discoverer’s Day instead. It honors the discovery of the Hawaiian Islands by Polynesians and was established by the 1969 Hawai‘i legislature as non-holiday status in order to make room for Martin Luther King, Jr. Day.

In addition, local advocacy groups in Hawai‘i have used this day to protest the holiday as a whole, suggesting we honor indigenous peoples instead. Introduced in January 2013 by [Senator] House Rep. Maile Shimabukuro (D – Wai‘anae, Mākaha, Mākua), [Senate] House Bill SB317 SD1 proposed changing the second Monday of October from “Discoverer’s Day” to “Indigenous People’s Day.” Unfortunately, the bill died.

What controversy?

When he first encountered the so-called “New World,” Columbus not only manipulated and massacred indigenous people for riches — gold and farmland — but also began a revolutionary wave of worldwide colonization, European culture domination and most notoriously mass slavery of both indigenous people and Africans. For this reason, there is controversy surrounding the holiday. 

For many ethnic minorities throughout America, the discovery of the New World by Columbus is not only disputed but also perceived in a negative light. For many, the “New World” meant boundless opportunities, whereas for others, especially Native Americans, the “New World” and its settlers brought death and destruction.

According to Spanish historian Consuelo Varela, several accounts from both supporters and enemies of Columbus describe him as a brutal and ruthless tyrant during his governorship over the Island of Hispaniola (modern day Haiti and Dominican Republic). Reports describe Columbus and his brothers using torture and mutilation to govern Hispaniola from 1493 to 1500. Due to the endless abuse of power during his governance, Columbus and his brothers were arrested and imprisoned for six weeks upon their return to Spain from the third voyage.

The native Taíno population indigenous to Hispaniola were used as slaves to acquire resources such as tobacco and gold. Due to brutal treatment by the Spanish, 85 percent of the Taíno were killed off less than a two decades after the arrival of Columbus. The colonizers eventually brought African slaves to replace the Taíno.

Hawai‘i chooses not to honor Columbus and instead honors Polynesian settlers. Surely his treatment of indigenous people will make many Hawaiians reluctant to celebrate Columbus.


Columbus Day cannot be considered a national holiday because it leaves us split.

Considering we should have respect for original peoples of this land, we should celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as a federal holiday. From the natives of the Americas to the stealing of Hawai‘i, indigenous people are owed more homage than the man who introduced disease and death.

By changing the name of the federal holiday, we are not ignoring the contributions Columbus made to the world, but rather honoring people ignored by history.

Read the full article here.

3 Responses

  1. Thank you Senator Maile….!!


  2. Hi Maile – just got back from 3 weeks on the mainland, saw this post from you and had an idea. I have travelled several times to Canada and they call their indigenous folks ‘First Nations’ – love that idea, because it works for everyone who was first to settle an area. And includes no slant about being ‘discovered’ by other people who come along much later.

    Just a thought.

    love, Carol Bonham


    • Aloha, Carol. Maile wasn’t aware of this usage and wishes to thank you for bringing it to her attention. She adds that Hawai’i can definitely learn from other parts of the world, and this is a good example.


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