Celebrating both holidays possible

Brittany Westerberg

Brittany Westerberg

This Monday was a holiday for the students and faculty at SDSU, giving them a day off from classes (or at least another day to procrastinate and avoid doing the homework they should have done earlier in the weekend). I’m sure I wasn’t the only one who had plenty to do to fill that free day. As I opened my student planner (bought from Barnes and Nobles), I saw that the holiday was called Columbus Day. Looking at a friend’s SDSU planner, however, proclaims the holiday to be Native American Day.

How can one holiday have two names?

After some research and reading an e-mail forward from a professor, I learned two things: first, that Columbus Day has been celebrated since the beginning of the 20th Century, though it wasn’t declared a national holiday by Congress until 1971. Second, the 1989 South Dakota state legislative session established Native American Day as a state holiday and set it on the same day as Columbus Day.

We all know that Columbus Day was started as a way to celebrate the (supposedly) first person from Europe to set foot in North America, though there is debate about that. Native American Day was established in order to celebrate Native American culture and to encourage people to learn about their heritage, their traditions and their part in South Dakota’s history.

The difference between the two holidays is the fact that one is a state holiday and the other a national holiday.

Some might say, well, which are we supposed to celebrate? The national or the state one?

I say, why not celebrate both?

Whatever some might say about Columbus, without him, Europe wouldn’t have known about America – or at least wouldn’t have known about it for a while longer – and in a roundabout way, we might not have the U.S. now. I think everyone can agree that, for whatever its many problems, we don’t really wish that we weren’t living in the U.S. today. Because of that, I see no reason not to celebrate that holiday.

At the same time, I don’t see why we shouldn’t celebrate Native American Day and celebrate culture in general. Native Americans are a part of South Dakota and its history.

This summer, I covered the Gathering of the Sacred Pipes Sundance in Pipestone, Minn., for the Argus Leader, where they were also celebrating the 40th Anniversary of the American Indian Movement. I met Clyde Bellecourt, Yaqui Joe Morales and several other interesting Native Americans. From them, I – a white female of German, Irish and Scandinavian descent – learned things I didn’t know about their culture, such as, among many other good values, how important community is to Native Americans.

Personally, I think we should all take a day, look back at our cultural heritage and celebrate it as well. We should embrace our pasts and learn about other people’s heritage. The more we learn about other cultures and about each other in general can only foster better relationships and less problems, like racism, that can divide our country.