Today is Columbus Day which was first celebrated in the U.S. in 1792. President Roosevelt made it a federal holiday in 1937. It’s been seen as a day to celebrate Italian-American heritage and honor Christopher Columbus.
But Columbus Day has become controversial in recent decades since Columbus’ arrival kickstarted colonization in the Western hemisphere and led to millions of Native American deaths.
Today is labeled on my calendar as Columbus Day and it is a federal holiday in America. But 22 states don’t celebrate Columbus Day. And protesters turn up at many Columbus Day parades and events.
What is going on with this man and this holiday?
Groups have suggested renaming it Italian Heritage Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day, or moving it on the calendar and reclaiming the second Monday in October as “Native American Day.” (South Dakota already calls it that.)
Even schools are shying away from Columbus lately. Some of the lesson plans I experienced as a child on that day have evolved to a more balanced perspective of what happened after Columbus reached the Caribbean and the suffering of indigenous populations.
Still, Columbus’ life and discoveries should be studied and taught – though perhaps a bit differently. He risked his life to explore an unknown world and created new connections between Europe and the Americas.
Of course, he also took slaves back to Spain. He launched a trend that conquistadors would follow and they would kill many of the Native Americans.
We were taught that he discovered America, but the land he accidentally came upon was already occupied by people who had discovered it much earlier. Columbus landed on islands in the Caribbean. He never set foot in any part of the land now referred to as the United States.
But, are we judging a 16th century man by 21st century standards?
Some things that my own elementary Columbus Day lessons never included…
Columbus fulfilled his contractual agreement to the King and Queen of Spain by bring back from his from his first voyages with a few spices, some gold he taken native peoples’ ear lobes. He also had 350 newly enslaved men and women. He would have had another 250, but they died on the voyage to Spain.
The King and Queen were satisfied, so they backed a second expedition in 1493. Remember that from school? Probably not. That second voyage had 17 ships with 1200 men. He had a full cavalry troop. he had 6 priests.
They raided and plundered the Caribbean islands. He returned with large expeditions in 1498 and 1502 that actually did the greatest damage to the indigenous peoples of the Caribbean.
Hispaniola was his home base. It had a population of eight million in 1492. After his raids, executions, enslavements (both on the islands and with those taken to Europe) and because of the European diseases the crews introduced, in 4 years the population is estimated to have dropped by half to 4 million.
His legacy continued after his last voyage. By 1508 the number was 100,000 and by 1535, the native population was for all purposes extinct.
Many historians say that the genocides of the twentieth century against Armenians, Jews, Gypsies, Ibos, Bengalis, Timorese, Ugandans and more, still don’t come close to the number of people or as large a percentage of a population destroyed as Columbus’ voyages and occupations.
On 20 May 1506, at about age 55, Columbus died in Spain. He was comfortably wealthy from the gold taken from Hispaniola. Did you know that at his death he was still convinced that his journeys had been along the east coast of Asia?
To: The President of The United States, The U.S. Congress, The U.S. Senate
We, the undersigned, petition the President of the United States, The U.S. Congress, and The U.S. Senate to hereby change “Columbus Day” to “Native American Day”.
Christopher Columbus did not discover America, he discovered Native Americans living peacefully in their homeland. And, as history has taught us, Mr. Columbus was not even the first to visit America from Europe.
So, then why do we continue to disgrace Native Americans by throwing this “National Holiday” up in their faces? It’s about time we realize that as Americans we are continuing the hate cycle by allowing this to continue. We should be thanking Native Americans for taking us in and sharing with us their ancient wisdom.
We have never had a Native American holiday in the U.S. and that is truly a shame. We deem anything we want as a “Federal Holiday” if only for the benefit of government employees having yet another 3-day weekend.
Let us give credit where credit is due. We urge you to change “Columbus Day” to “Native American Day”.