What if I suggested a federal holiday celebrating the genocide, enslavement, rape, and torturing of native people? That sounds like an awful idea, right? Unfortunately, I don’t have to because there already is one: Columbus Day.
Christopher Columbus, a European explorer often credited for “discovering” America, did not set foot on what is now the United States. He instead, landed in the Caribbean, a place where millions of people inhabited the land for thousands of years. In fact, Vikings landed in America 500 years prior to Columbus’ arrival.
Driven by greed and the need for power, Columbus enslaved countless Natives to mine for gold. In addition, if they refused to help Columbus, they faced the possibility of being beheaded or having their hands cut off.
Columbus wrote in his journal, “They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built with good bodies and handsome features… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” The Native people welcomed them with open arms, and in return, Columbus approved his men to torture, rape, and kill them, including babies.
Many people use Columbus Day as a way to celebrate Italian heritage, as Columbus was an Italian Renaissance explorer. His exploration paved a path for European immigration, and marks the beginning of European colonization.
Across the country, more states, counties, and cities are switching the second Monday of October, from what is often recognized as Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day; it serves as a way to honor native cultures, languages, traditions, and people. Hawaii, Alaska, Oregon, Vermont, and South Dakota have made the switch to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day. Many cities have hopped on the bandwagon including Phoenix, Denver, Los Angeles, Berkeley, Albuquerque, and many more. Native Americans and allies continue to protest for this to become more widespread because there shouldn’t be a holiday celebrating the mass genocide and forced assimilation of their ancestors.
Nataani Cleveland, a Native American Junior at Terra Linda High School, shares his opinions of Columbus Day. He states that we as a country should change to Indigenous People’s Day because it is “better to celebrate people’s nationality rather than invasion.” As children, we were taught that Columbus was a hero who “discovered” America, however in Nataani’s opinion, he’s “pure evil”.
Native Americans have been at the hands of European colonists for centuries, now they are underrepresented in our society and they deserve a voice. Native people are portrayed as savages in Hollywood, are the poorest demographic, and have some of the highest rates of alcoholism. 43% of Native Americans will suffer from alcoholism at some point in their life. Having a day to celebrate them and their culture is a way to give them a positive platform, rather than degrading them with mascots and products for sports teams. An example is the Washington Redskins, whose name is a literal racial slur, further perpetuating negative stereotypes about an underrepresented group.
The colonists took the Native land. They killed, raped, tortured, and forced them to assimilate into an unfamiliar society. Considering the history and the current state of people of color in the United States, should we have Indigenous People’s Day or Columbus Day? Please comment below.
People’s History of the United States – Howard Zinn
American Medical Association
¨Columbus Was a Genocidal Rapist”- Decoded