LANCASTER, Pa. — Millions of Americans get a day off work for Columbus Day. Yet the holiday is growing increasingly controversial, as it highlights the divide between those who celebrate Christopher Columbus’ 1492 voyage and others offended by an annual tribute that ignores the suffering Europeans brought to millions of Native Americans.
Calls have grown across the U.S. to pair or replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, now celebrated in 14 states.
At stake is Columbus’ legacy, which is often depicted as either a brave explorer or a violent oppressor.
“Columbus was a very important person. He discovered America,” said Jennifer Ribecca of Lancaster.
The narrative that Columbus “discovered” America, however, has come under scrutiny in recent years.
“He ‘discovered America,’” said Quarryville resident Autumn Feather, using her fingers to make air quotations. “But there were many, many people here before him.”
Proponents of renaming the day point to the destruction those people suffered after the arrival of Europeans: centuries of colonization that brought violence, disease and cultural erasure.
“To recognize Indigenous People’s Day is a resistance to that erroneous history,” said Mabel Negrete, executive director of Indigenous People’s Day Philly.
In Lancaster, a statue of Christopher Columbus has become a rallying point for protesters and a target of repeated vandalism. The statue was toppled three times in 2021, the last time in early July. Locals haven’t seen it since.
“I see it all the time there. The last few months I’ve been coming back here, just walking through here, and it was not there,” said Lancaster resident Maurice Timothy McPhail, III.
Lancaster City and Lancaster County officials could not be immediately reached to find out why the statue was removed or where it is.
The statue has faced criticism, as well as drawn praise, since its installation in 1992.
“Probably a lot of different views on it, but they need to put the statue back up,” Ribecca said.
“I don’t agree with taking down history, but I do think we need to understand that not everybody was good and not everybody needs to be celebrated,” said Laura May of Quarryville.
Lancaster City Council passed a resolution in 2020 to remove it.
Since the statue is on the property of the Lancaster County Court Administration, the decision to keep or remove it is ultimately up to the Lancaster County Commissioners. They last addressed the issue in 2017, voting unanimously to keep it.
The Lancaster statue is not the first to come under scrutiny. A large statue in Philadelphia will remain in a protective box through Columbus Day.