I’m not that old, but I do recall in my elementary school social studies classes being taught that Christopher Columbus discovered America, and that he was a great pioneer and visionary. Which might be true on some levels. Who’s to say we would be where we are now as one of these strongest nations to have ever existed, if it weren’t for his voyage centuries ago.
And while he didn’t “discover America” (he actually landed in the Bahamas), there’s no denying that he has a place in our history books for his trip across the Atlantic — as do the Europeans that had landed in the “Americas” in the 11th century.
The problem is, our history books don’t often tell the entire story. Let’s face it — his trip was triggered by his own ego and the greed of the Spanish.
Let’s not forget one very simple fact — he didn’t “discover” anything. You can’t discover a land that’s already inhabited. Native Americans were already in the “new world” long before Europeans arrived here to pillage their lands for their own gains. It’s always baffled me how we still teach this idiocy that these Europeans “discovered” something.
Our history books still continue to downplay the total slaughter and abuse levied against Native Americans. We often talk about slavery as it relates to African Americans (as we should), but rarely is it mentioned that Columbus himself was a slave trader. My colleague Arik Bjorn has a pretty great essay which delves deeper into this, and I’d highly encourage checking it out.
There’s something wrong with the fact that our classroom history books gloss over some of the horrors bestowed on Native Americans, while honoring a man whose legend is mostly built on a lie. We give a federal holiday to a man who didn’t “discover” anything and honestly wasn’t a great individual in many ways, while we don’t properly honor those Native Americans who truly “discovered” America.
He came to the “new world” driven by ego, greed, power and notoriety. Why we continue to perpetuate this legend that he was some selfless savior who sought to find a new world for noble intentions is beyond me.
While I know most of us enjoy federal holidays, I think it’s time this one gets renamed and refocused. It’s time we stop filtering our history books to cover up the horrors that were levied against Native Americans, from the landing of Columbus in the Bahamas to the flaws of our Founding Fathers while we “established a nation for freedom.”
As a nation, we seem to conveniently forget that there were people already here and those settlers that came here took these lands by brutal force.
I’ve said often that this nation, though great in many ways, was built by the slavery of one race and the genocide of another. We herded Native Americans up much like we would cattle (though at times we seemed to treat cattle better than we did Natives) and put them on patches of land we picked out for them. Then we often called them savages as we slaughtered them by the thousands to near extinction.
I say we keep Columbus Day as a federal holiday, only rename it something that honors Native Americans. South Dakota already calls it Native Americans’ Day — maybe it’s time to consider something like that on the federal level.
Because by having a day which honors a man whose reputation is built mostly on fiction rather than fact, all we’re doing is honoring a lie.
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