The Day of Indigenous Peoples has many names

On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas. In many American countries, the day is used to honour indigenous peoples - and urge for respect for their rights.

By Lola García-Alix, Senior Advisor, Global Governance

October 16, 2017.- The "Day of the Race", "Día de la Raza", (Latin America) or "Columbus Day" (North America) has always been a date of reflection and struggle for the indigenous peoples of the Americas. Although it is commemorated in different dates depending on the country, the origin is the same: the beginning of colonisation.

Exactly 525 years after Columbus first set foot on the American continent, the celebration has become more and more about the respect and protection of indigenous peoples, the original inhabitants of the lands.

New names

Most of the continent's countries, following the revisionist movements of the 1990s linked to the debate initiated by the 500 years of colonization, have chosen to highlight a change of opposite direction. In South America, the commemoration day was given new names.

Chile: "Day of the Meeting of Two Worlds" (2000)

Venezuela: Indigenous Resistance Day (2002)

Peru: "Day of Indigenous Peoples and Intercultural Dialogue" (2009)

Argentina: "Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity" (2010)

Bolivia: "Day of Decolonization" (2011)

Ecuador: "Day of Interculturality and Plurinationality" (2011).

In the United States, "Columbus Day" has been a federal celebration throughout the country since 1937. Recently, many cities have adopted "Day of the Indigenous Peoples" in exchange for "Columbus Day”.

Good intentions are not enough

The decisions of changing names have a strong symbolic character but still, needs back-up by legal reforms to become real action. The good intentions of States to change the names of commemorative dates are very important steps to recognise and redress the historical injustices committed against indigenous peoples.

There is no doubt that the growing support for the Day of Indigenous Peoples on the American continent drives processes of reconciliation and intercultural dialogue.

However, in many cases, this does not translate into concrete actions on the ground, where the rights of indigenous peoples are often violated. Latin America bears the doubtful honour of being the continent, where most indigenous peoples are being killed for defending their ancestral lands.

States are making goodwill statements. But they show little willingness to commit themselves to change their policies and develop specific programmes to end the marginalisation and discrimination suffered by indigenous peoples.

Our global report on indigenous peoples’ rights, the Indigenous World 2017, reflects the advances and setbacks in relation to the 10 years of the adoption of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples. So we must focus and use all our efforts to find solutions to bridge the gap between good intentions and the political commitments made by national states.


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