The Potluck of Columbus and Indigenous Peoples’ Day

The United States is often called a cultural melting pot, but would a more apt metaphor be a potluck, where cultures are shared rather than erased through blending?

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President Biden issued a surprise proclamation for Indigenous Peoples’ Day last Friday. Afterwards, the White House press secretary Jen Psaki clarified that from the federal level, October 11th will be both Indigenous Peoples’ and Columbus Day. If I understand this correctly, Columbus Day is still a federal holiday that was approved by Congress in 1937, whereas a Presidential proclamation is an expression of public policy which can include the declaration of other public holidays. For many years, there was a petition for a Native Americans’ Day for a mid-September Floating Monday, but it did not pass Congress and instead turned into a proclamation for “Native American Awareness Week.”

Of course, controversy emerged after the announcement, which has been reflected in recent years with some states and municipalities replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Columbus Day itself has changed over time to sometimes recognize Italian-Americans in general. Columbus has been reevaluated by critics as a colonizer besides being an explorer, initiating the brutal treatment by the settling Europeans of Native Americans. President Biden proclaims the natives’ resilience, strength, and contributions.

The United States has commonly been called a melting pot, but that is a metaphor for blending and losing cultural identity. At its best, although the origin of this special day is different for each, having a simultaneous Indigenous Peoples’ and Columbus Day of cultural victim and victimizer represents the beginning of a metaphorical potluck. A potluck is traditionally a communal gathering where people or cultural groups bring favorite foods to share.

Perhaps someday all our cultures that have contributed so much can be included in an October 11th federal holiday that will be called Potluck Day, and celebrated with a potluck meal! Yumm!

Dr Moffic is an award-winning psychiatrist who has specialized in the cultural and ethical aspects of psychiatry. A prolific writer and speaker, he received the one-time designation of Hero of Public Psychiatry from the Assembly of the American Psychiatric Association in 2002. He is an advocate for mental health issues relate to climate instability, burnout, Islamophobia, and anti-Semitism for a better world. He serves on the Editorial Board of Psychiatric TimesTM.