Columbus The Killer

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Exploring Columbus Day

Yesterday was Columbus Day and I have to proclaim it as one of our most minor holidays, right down there with Arbor Day, Flag Day, and maybe just a little less prominent than Groundhog Day.

I was tempted to post an anti Columbus rant yesterday, but out of respect for Italian-Americans I decided to delay until at least the holiday was over.

Why would I care if we honor Columbus and set aside a special day to recognize his place in our history? What wrong with that?

Here’s why:

First, Columbus didn’t actually discover America. The Vikings had already voyaged here long before he made it. So my first objection is that we’ve all been taught a lie, and that lie is being perpetuated to this day in our schools.

Secondly, and more importantly, there were millions of people living full and vibrant lives on this continent when Columbus “discovered” it. The ancestors of these inhabitants were the real discoverers, and the first people to set their feet on American soil.

Thirdly, where’s their holiday? Is there any holiday which recognizes Native Americans? Why not? Is their contribution to our heritage less than that of one plucky Italian sailor? I don’t think so.

Fourthly, there’s a dark side to Columbus Day. What Columbus actually accomplished was to set in motion a genocide of native peoples by European intruders. I’ve taken some blowback for a previous blog about Thanksgiving in which I pointed out that the Pilgrims and other early settlers ruthlessly slaughtered tribes in Massachusetts Colony, another little shameful anecdote from American history we’d rather ignore.

Fifthly, Columbus himself was not above killing native peoples. Maybe this is a truth Americans would prefer not to hear, but Columbus and his men raped, murdered and took as slaves the natives they encountered. Do we really want to honor and continue to tell school children what a great person he was?

Does anybody care about all this? Not very much. The descendants of what was left of the original occupiers of this continent have been so marginalized and so overwhelmed by European bloodlines, we seem to rarely ever consider  their point of view. Which seems a little weird.

I thought our country had developed some appreciation for the value of diversity in our culture. The fight for minorities to be included in the American experience has become a foundation of political correctness.

Except for one group, which hardly ever seems to get any recognition. Native Americans still live in abject poverty, confined by economic reality to some of the worst pieces of land the government could find.

There are no prominent Native American politicians, few celebrities, almost no wealthy tycoons among them. In fact, they are practically invisible in American culture.

We live in a country where Johnny Depp can portray a Native American in a Disney movie and hardly anyone seems to care. European descendants have no problem adorning their bodies with beautiful jewelry inspired and often actually created by native people, while turning their back on the plight of these people in our society.

Let me ask you this. What other minority group has to suffer a professional sports team whose name is a racial slur? Answer, none. That situation would  not be tolerated by our culture. But the Washington Redskins will be cheered on once again this weekend by adoring fans.

This is an ugly truth we need to fix. We need to stop worshipping false heroes and admit our role as mass murderers.

At the least, a minor holiday should mark the people who first inhabited this country. Call it Crazy Horse Day, or Sequoyah Day, or Geronimo Day, but for the sake of all that’s right, let’s do something.

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5 responses to “Columbus The Killer

  1. Well done, Ron! While my piece sought to satirize the situation (by Columbus goofing up completely and the world actually turning out to be flat) yours hits the nail on the head with the real truth about the whole thing. Most educated people knew the world was round back in those days and Columbus ‘discovered’ a new world only by bumping into it. And he was a bastard. A Native American Day makes much more sense!

  2. Not that long ago I read Caribbean by James Michener, and it blew me away. One of the first peoples that Columbus encountered were the Carib people, who were a brutal, bloodthirsty people — and cannibals — and so after that, he just assumed that anyone he came across would be the same, which caused him to wipe out the entire Arawak peoples — who were peaceful, and who feared the Caribs as much as Columbus did. This whole history fascinates and repulses me, and agree with you – there really should be educational reform around the matter.

  3. Applause! Our local news interviewed a Chief of a local tribe of Native Americans. He said the football team name did not bother him, he was glad to see any symbol of the Natives. He was more troubled by other things the government is doing. I appreciate your voice speaking out for them.

  4. i don’t understand why this seems to be a topic of interest only recently. i would imagine that this kind of information must have been readily available for a long time, yet i can’t recall – before this year – it being mentioned so often. i’ve seen this discussed on a dozen blogs and a lot of facebook chatter recently. but only recently.

    a few years ago i read a book called “the last voyage of columbus.” excellent book, and it painted a less-than-gracious picture of the explorer, but it wasn’t as appalling as what i have read this year. i wonder what the initial source of all this was and how accurate it might be. i heard something about a book or show called “1491,” and maybe that’s the source. and i also wonder of its accuracy, if things were a little bit sensationalized for the sake of selling a book. i don’t know enough to know. not yet anyway.

    as for the “discovery” of america, it’s an old argument but a valid one. can you really discover something that was always there in plain sight? we talk about who “discovered” the mississippi river, as if it could have been lost. i suppose we should put the word “european” in the sentence, such as the “first european to discover” something. although, the viking also count as european. so that leads to the word “settled.” as in colombus was the first to “settle” america. however, i have also read that he never really set foot on north america, only central america.

    oh well. it’s friday.

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