“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue. / He had 3 ships and left from Spain, / He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.” 500 years later, elementary schoolers honor Christopher Columbus’s great journey and discovery of the Americas by sining these lines.
Columbus has become a controversial figure however, and rightfully so. Despite the positive historical significance traditionally assigned to Columbus’s journey, the undeniable and unfortunate truth of the matter is that his arrival proved destructive to the indigenous tribes he encountered.
Campolindo may not officially celebrate Columbus Day, but we do have the day off each October. I believe that it is not enough to nod quietly at this conqueror during a routine Staff Development Day. We should instead spend the day recognizing the indigenous people affected by his reckless actions.
Like many indigenous tribes, the Taino Native American population and culture were decimated by the arrival of Columbus and his crew. Spanish records estimate that 85% of the Taino people had disappeared by the early 1500s, according to Smithsonian.
This obliteration was in part due to Columbus’ greed, as he subjugated natives into working in gold mines for his own economic gain and violently enslaved thousands, sending them to Spain. Columbus’ crew also brought diseases to the New World, ranging from smallpox to influenza. The natives, unimmunized, died by the millions.
For years, Columbus has been recognized and honored as a hero and pioneer. However, do we as a progressive society really wish to commemorate a man who spread disease, enslaved innocent people, shipped them away from their homeland, and forced natives to work in dangerous mines purely for the sake of money?
Additionally, for someone celebrated as an explorer of new worlds, he seemed to have taken a lot of the old world with him. While sailing for King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, devout Catholic Columbus eagerly spread his faith and forcibly converted hundreds of natives.
These are not the actions of a benign explorer following orders to convert natives. These were the actions of a man so immoral he gave the native people the choice of conversion or death.
It is important to recognize history, and Columbus was certainly a brave explorer and influential figure. But, he was also the catalyst for generations of strife for native culture in the Americas. To celebrate Columbus Day is to commemorate that past’s wrongdoings.
Various American cities have ignited the “Columbus: Hero or Conquerer?” debate by renaming the holiday Indigenous Peoples Day, in a show of respect towards his native victims. The day originated in Berkeley, California on October 22, 1991, and continues to honor the history and culture of those on the receiving end of his colonization, slavery, forced proselytizing, and more.
According to Time, Vermont, Minnesota, Alaska, and South Dakota are the only complete states that celebrate the new meaning of the day, but many cities such as Los Angeles, Santa Cruz, Seattle, Denver, Salt Lake City, and Nashville honor it as well.
Celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day is a crucial step in the right direction for America. Columbus’ arrival proved disastrous for the millions of innocent Native Americans that originally occupied the land of the New World. To pay homage to these people who were fatally impacted by the Europeans’ appearance is the best thing that we can do to compensate for the fact that Columbus and his crew essentially destroyed their population, culture, and future.