Day of Indigenous Peoples celebrated throughout the Americas

As some countries celebrate Columbus Day and the ‘Día de la Hispanidad’ (Hispanic Day), other countries and a number of civil organizations commemorate the impact of European colonization on indigenous populations · In Venezuela, October 12 is celebrated as the ‘Día de la Resistencia Indígena’ (Day of Indigenous Resistance).

October 12, 2008 marked the 516th anniversary of Christopher Columbus's arrival in America. The day is celebrated under a variety of different names in the Western World: Columbus Day in the United States, National Day in Spain, and the Day of the Race in a number of Latin American countries. But increasing numbers of indigenous peoples from both North and South America are calling for the genocide of the indigenous population, which began in 1492 with the arrival of a certain Spanish fleet in the Bahamas, to be commemorated on October 12.

Venezuela set the ball rolling in 2002, when President Hugo Chavez announced that the annual Day of the Race celebrations would be replaced with the Day of Indigenous Resistance. A number of governmental bodies set up by the Chavez administration, such as the Guaicaipuro Mission and the Ministry of Popular Power for Indigenous Peoples, oversee events across the country to commemorate native history and Columbus's arrival.

In addition to the Venezuelan Government, several Latin American social movements have used October 12 to denounce the effects of colonization by European powers and, in some cases, the activities of multinational companies operating in indigenous territories. At the last Continental Summit of Indigenous Peoples and Nationalities, held in Peru in May, one of the items on the indigenous assembly's agenda was entitled "12 October 2008: Indigenous and popular mobilization across the continent".

October 12 is an official holiday in the United States and the country's Italian communities traditionally hold marches and festivals in honour of Columbus, who supposedly came from Genoa. Counter-demonstrations are also sometimes held, most notably in Denver, Colorado.

The focus of Columbus Day celebrations has been changed in some parts of the United States. South Dakota, for instance, celebrates the holiday as Native American Day, while the city of Berkeley in California celebrates it as Indigenous People's Day.

In the past, a number of international events have been held on October 12 calling for indigenous populations to have greater rights in their ancestral territories. In 1990 the city of Quito, Ecuador played host to the first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, an event which was repeated in Davis, California the following year, when October 12, 1992 - the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in America - was declared the International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples.

Image: Denver-based Transform Columbus Day Alliance poster showing a blood-stained portrait of Christopher Columbus with the word "Savage" superimposed.

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