Los Angeles voted this week to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. Several other cities in America such as San Francisco and Portland have renamed the holiday in honor of Native Americans who were killed during the Age of Exploration. As is the case with Confederate statues, some conservatives are against ending Columbus Day due to it being a part of American heritage and history.
Should we remember Christopher Columbus for helping bridge the New World and the Old World? Yes. But should we idolize the man with a federal holiday? No.
Here’s the fact: Christopher Columbus was an exploitative bigot who instigated the rape and destruction of millions of Native Americans. To not acknowledge this would be to whitewash history. There are many misconceptions surrounding the Italian explorer.
Columbus was not even the first one to discover the Americas, or that the world was round. Firstly, the European who first discovered the Americas was the viking Leif Eriksson during the 11th century. The trouble was that his travels did not stabilize a connection between the Old World and the New World. Secondly, humans have known that the Earth was round for at least 2,000 years. Greek philosophers like Eratosthenes and Aristotle argued for the idea prior to any circumnavigation.
The biggest argument against Columbus Day is the lack of acknowledgement given to the Native Americans who were brutalized as a result of his actions and the Age of Exploration. While enriching Europe and themselves, Columbus and his men enslaved natives to build encomiendas, search for gold, and till the land.
In his journals, Columbus said that the Native Americans “should be good servants” and “with fifty men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”
Columbus and his men also tried to wipe away tribal culture, which became a part of American heritage. Columbus said in a letter that the natives were “artless”and the majority of Europeans thought they were “civilizing” the natives by forcefully indoctrinating them into Christianity. Columbus built the foundation for western expansion that would continue to in the form of manifest destiny in the 1800s.
To add insult, Europeans brought over several communicable diseases like smallpox and influenza which decimated the indigenous population. Estimates show that 90 percent of the natives died due to disease. Remaining Native American do not take kindly to Columbus Day, to say the least.
In the “One Word” video series, unnamed Native Americans referred to him as “the first terrorist in America” who “didn’t discover anything, and instead got lost.” Replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day would be a way to mend the wounds of horrific discrimination.
Despite of all this, the federal government has revered Columbus for his “courage and vision.” Ironically, Columbus has a more appropriate view of himself, as a masterful and ruthless brute: “I ought to be judged as a captain who for such a long time up to this day has borne arms without laying them aside for an hour.”
Photo Credits: Elaine Thompson from The Associated Press