Columbus Day has long been celebrated in the United States as a holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas in 1492. However, there has been a growing movement to reevaluate and transform this holiday into Indigenous Peoples' Day in recent years.
In Apopka, the idea made its way to a City Council meeting.
Commissioner Alexander Smith brought up the idea during City Commission Reports at the September 6th meeting.
"I really didn't know what our opinions were one way or the other," said Commissioner Alexander Smith. "And so I think that warrants some discussion."
"Apopka's roots are Native American," said Commissioner Kyle Becker. "Native Americans settled on the shores of Lake Apopka. I get it, I can see the value of honoring it... I don't see why you can't celebrate however you want to celebrate."
Commissioner Diane Velazquez agreed with Becker.
"Apopka was founded by indigenous people," she said. "I don't see a problem. We should at least recognize it because we go to the Apopka Museum, and everything about our history starts with indigenous Native Americans, and we've never really recognized it and celebrated that."
Apopka's history can be traced back to prehistoric times when the land was inhabited by indigenous peoples for thousands of years before European contact. These early inhabitants were part of a larger Native American which flourished in what is now Florida from around 500 BCE to 1500 CE. This culture is characterized by distinctive pottery styles and mound-building traditions.
One of the most significant archaeological sites in Apopka is the Wekiwa Mound, located in present-day Wekiwa Springs State Park. Built by Native Americans, it stands as a testament to their complex social and religious practices. It is believed to have served as a ceremonial platform or burial site.
Commissioner Nick Nesta was also open to the change.
"That's why I brought it up last meeting," Nesta said. "There's a lot of historical context to how we got to Columbus Day and why I think it's a little more appropriate that it's an Indigenous People's Day... so yeah, I think we should definitely do it I don't know if it needs to be a noticed thing or something you can just make happen today."
Columbus Day, initially established as a federal holiday in 1937, has faced increasing scrutiny over the years. Christopher Columbus's arrival in the Americas marked the beginning of a tumultuous period for indigenous peoples, characterized by colonization, forced labor, disease, and violence. The traditional narrative surrounding Columbus's journey often romanticizes his exploration while neglecting the suffering and injustices inflicted upon indigenous communities.
Apopka City Attorney Cliff Shepard confirmed that a change from Columbus to Indigenous People's Day could be made without public notice, but also suggested it may be a topic that residents would want to weigh in on.
"There's no reason that you can't do it tonight," Shepard said. "The reason you might want to do it on a different night for public consideration is because it wasn't on the agenda. The irony of Sunshine Law is while it requires meetings to be publicly noticed and minutes to be kept, it doesn't even require you to have an agenda, so legally you can proceed. Whether you should or not is up to you.
"I would say it would be best to have it publicly noticed," Velazquez said.
"Well, I don't know if there are two sides to this issue or not but I imagined there might be and in so given that that's a circumstance you might want to consider whether it should be on the public notice agenda, but you don't have to."
It turns out there is another side to the Columbus Day debate.
While some critics argue that it represents the colonization and oppression of indigenous peoples, proponents argue that it can serve as a day to promote understanding, appreciation, and celebration of diverse cultures. Instead of erasing Columbus Day, we can use it as a platform to recognize the rich tapestry of cultures that make up the Americas.
The Council is scheduled to take up the issue at the September 20th meeting.
Columbus Day... (or Indigenous People's Day) is observed on the second Monday in October each year. In 2023, Columbus Day is Monday, October 9th.