Lesson Plan: Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day?

By Annie Thornton 09.30.2016 blog

Many people in America honor the contributions of Christopher Columbus on Columbus Day. However, a growing movement seeks to change the holiday to Indigenous People’s Day, in recognition of Native Americans and the negative impacts of Columbus’ discovery of the New World. Channel One News shares the story of how Seattle, Wash., renamed Columbus Day to better honor its Native American heritage.

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Students will:

  • Learn about the growing opposition to celebrations honoring Columbus Day.
  • Construct a valid argument defending their personal opinion on this issue.
  • Evaluate opposing websites to identify author bias and its effect on media messaging.

Opening Activity

Show your class an image of Columbus such as this one (NOTE: external link), without identifying him. Ask students: Who is this? What do you know about him? What did he do? Are you aware of any controversy involving him? 

Words in the News

  • Indigenous: living or existing naturally in a particular region or environment
  • pre-contact: of or relating to the period of time before Columbus made contactwith Native Americans.

Watch “Indigenous People’s Day”

(original air date October 13, 2014)

Check for Understanding

Why do some people oppose celebrating Columbus Day?

a. They feel it distracts from the achievements of other Italian-Americans.
b. They feel that it celebrates a man who killed and enslaved thousands of indigenous people.
c. They feel that Columbus Day parades disrupt traffic and draw crowds that are too large.
d. They don’t feel that Christopher Columbus paved the way for the discovery and formation of the United States.

Think-Pair-Share: Is it possible to celebrate in a way that honors both Italian and Native American heritage? What would that celebration look like?

View “Christopher Columbus and Native Americans” Slideshow

(originally published on October 13, 2014)


The great Italian explorer Christopher Columbus is a source of pride for Italian-Americans, as is the holiday named after him. In 1905, Columbus Day became a legal holiday in Colorado thanks to the efforts of Angelo Noce, an Italian-American from Denver. It became a national holiday in 1934 thanks to support from Italian-American newspaper publisher Generoso Pope.


Italian-Americans have good reason to be proud of Columbus’s achievements. But for those whose ancestors were in the Americas long before his arrival, Columbus Day represents something painful: a reminder of Columbus’s brutality and a celebration of the end of their way of life.


In 1492, Columbus sailed across the Atlantic hoping to find a new route to India. Instead, he eventually ended up on a Caribbean island inhabited by the Taíno people. Expecting to be in India, Columbus called the Taíno “Indians.” Because his expedition was funded by Spain, he named the island Insula Hispana, or Hispaniola. The Taíno had called it Ayti. Today, it’s known as Haiti.


In his letters to Spain, Columbus described the Taíno as peaceful and generous. He wrote, “They give away all they have got,” but noticed that they were unarmed and added, “They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”


In Hispaniola, Columbus established the first American colony. Spanish settlers followed, and turned the Taíno into slaves. Before Columbus’s arrival, there had been anywhere from several hundred thousand to over a million Taíno on the island. By 1514, there were only 32,000. The rest died from violence, enslavement or diseases brought by the settlers.


Columbus never set foot in North America, but he paved the way for European colonization. The history of the native peoples there resembles that of the Taíno. Recent DNA studies suggest that European diseases reduced the Native American population to an all-time low within years of Columbus’s arrival.


Eventually, an expanding European population forced native peoples off their land. In 1830, U.S. President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act, which required Native American tribes to relocate west of the Mississippi River. Tribes that resisted were forcibly moved. About 4,000 Cherokee died on the forced march westward known as the Trail of Tears.


This week, the Seattle City Council voted to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day on Columbus Day. Tribal leaders say the move honors their history, but some are upset by the shift. “We don’t argue with the idea of Indigenous Peoples’ Day,” said an Italian-American man living in Seattle. "We do have a big problem with it coming at the expense of what essentially is Italian Heritage Day.”

Check for Understanding

  • What were Columbus’ first impressions of the Taino people?
  • What effect did Columbus and Spanish settlers have upon the Taino?

Turn and Talk: Explain the effect of European colonization upon the Native people of North America.

Argumentative Writing

Did the Seattle City Council do the right thing by replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day? Why or why not? Use specific evidence from the script and the slideshow to support your opinion.

Media Literacy

Divide class in half. Half of the class visits Indian Country Today Media Network. The other half visits the Italian Tribune.

Website evaluation:

  • Who is the author of this web site?
  • Who is the intended audience?
  • What is the top story or stories?
  • What is the purpose of this website?
  • What message does this website convey to its audience?

Next, place students in small groups. Tell students they are now “staff writers” for the website they evaluated. Students work together to write an article about Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day that might appear on the website they evaluated. Articles should echo the tone and messaging of their respective websites—NOT their personal opinions.

Share a few student responses. Ask students: How might an author’s personal opinion influence a media message?

Closing Activity

Take a class poll:

  • How many students think Columbus Day should be renamed Indigenous Peoples Day in our state?
  • How many students think Columbus Day remain as it is?


  1. sadge


  2. Brittney

    Hey this is Britney and I watch you every day at school I think you guys are amazing and sometimes you guys are funny. And I like it when you asks us what’s the next big thing is.

    • sadge

      whatttttttttttttttttt you watch it evreyday i do not

  3. adaisia tate

    indigenous people day.

  4. adaisia zanders

    i say indigenous people day

  5. Trinnity McMillen

    INDIGENOUS DAY!! Why should we celebrate a day of sadness. Columbus ruined people’s life. He had slaves took people away from their home and he claimed to find new lands. But he didn’t. There was already people there. Columbus is a brave man, but he is a horrible role model and might teach children the wrong ideas. Give them the wrong impression.

  6. Cameron Howard

    I think we should celebrate both because both races founded the country.

  7. Deanna

    Indigenous Peoples Day might be fun but Columbus day is way more important. Columbus day is dedicated to the Braveness of Christopher Columbus to sail around the world. Most people like me ,have never heard or known that much about it. Izia , you are my favorite reporter. What do you think is a better day , Columbus or Indigenous Peoples Day?

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