top of page

Celebrating Indigenous Peoples' Day & Why We Should Finally Ditch Columbus

Two years after President Joe Biden officially commemorated Indigenous Peoples Day, an increasing number of states and cities have also pivoted from a celebration of explorer Christopher Columbus to one focused on the people whose lives and culture were changed by colonialism. However, many in the US will continue to honor Columbus and his arrival in the Bahamas back in 1492. That's a shame because there are few people less worthy of a national celebration. Christopher Columbus didn't discover America and he didn't prove the world was round; most educated Europeans already knew that. Moreover, when he arrived, millions of people were already living here and a Norse explorer, Leif Ericson, had reached Newfoundland around 1000 AD. Columbus didn't discover anything, although his arrival did have profound consequences. If anything, Columbus should be remembered for opening up the Americas to colonization and slavery, and that shouldn't be cause for celebration; contrition perhaps, celebration, no. And, you don't have to buy into the entire "Black Legend" to understand what a distasteful human being Columbus was. He made four voyages to the Caribbean spreading pestilence and enslaving the population while searching for gold to steal for Spain. There's really no way to put a positive spin on that. "When Columbus first set foot on Hispaniola, he encountered a population of native people called the Taino. A friendly group, they willingly traded jewelry, animals, and supplies with the sailors. “They were very well built, with very handsome bodies and very good faces,” Columbus wrote in his diary. “They do not carry arms or know them....They should be good servants.” The natives were soon forced into slavery, and punished with the loss of a limb or death if they did not collect enough gold (a portion of which Columbus was allowed to keep for himself). Between the European’s brutal treatment and their infectious diseases, within decades, the Taino population was decimated." A young Catholic priest who traveled with Columbus was far less kind in describing his legacy. Rapid City Journal: "If captivity and death weren’t enough, Columbus and his men had a particular reputation for cruelty. Bartolome de las Casas, a young priest who participated in the conquest of Cuba and wrote a history of the Indies, describes the treatment of the natives: “Endless testimonies ... prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives. ... But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder, then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then.... The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians ...“ Las Casas describes how Spaniards rode on the backs of natives. How the Spaniards "thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades." Las Casas adds "two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys." Even if you believe Las Casas was exaggerating a bit to make a point [and some historians do], what he is describing is genocide on a grand scale. So, please, can we just stop with the......"In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue," nonsense!

Additional reading: Professor Edmund S. Morgan of Yale has a wonderful piece about Columbus and his legacy in the Smithsonian.

Prof. Susan Faircloth has a piece in the Conversation explaining the importance of honoring native Americans.

Michael Coard, The Philadelphia Tribune, "Five facts proving Columbus was one of history's worst monsters."

Vincent Schilling, Great Falls Tribune: 8 Myths and Atrocities about Christopher Columbus and Columbus Day

#culture #history By: Don Lam & Curated Content

Portions of this piece were first published in 2018

Follow Us
  • Facebook Basic Square
Shop and Support Illuminate. Handmade and Fair Trade Bags, Throws, Bedspreads, Table Runners and Pillow Covers. See them Here!
_MG_7571 (2).JPG
See Our Handmade Bedspreads & Throws Here
20200514_153719 (2).jpg

Handmade Guatemalan Backpack Shoulder Bag. See them here.

bottom of page