September 1

Blog #145 – Columbus Day – what are your thoughts?

Christopher Columbus is credited with having discovered the New World in 1492, but not necessarily America (even though a lookout on his ship, Rodrigo, claimed that he saw land first).  How people interpret this fact is the subject of intense historical and cultural debate across the world.  The day honoring the discovery, October 12, is a national holiday, but for some historians and cultures, this day is marked as one when Spanish imperialism and genocide of the Native Americans began.

Those who want to discredit Columbus Day usually start with the wave of violence, slavery and genocide of the Native Americans that began after his “discovery.”  On the island of Hispanola (Haiti / Dominican Republic), the sailors left there after his first voyage were tasked with finding gold and silver and soon tried to put to work the natives of the island.  In subsequent voyages, he searched Central and South America for gold, and the communicable diseases like smallpox and measles that the Europeans had would also wipe out – intentionally or not – the Native populations.  Conquistadors Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro exploited divisions among the ruling tribes, Aztecs and Incas respectively, to conquer vast empires.  It’s estimated that something like 80% of the 45-100 million Native Americans (historians disagree – a defender claimed that there were only 8.5 million Natives in all of the Americas when Columbus arrived) who lived in the New World were wiped out by disease, war, and famine brought on by discovery.  Critics have claimed that the holiday should be renamed “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” to honor all the Native Americans past and present.  In the Zinn section, he outlines the systematic destruction of the Arawak people and how they were eliminated through forced slavery, mining, and diseases.

Here’s John Oliver’s take on Columbus Day:

But was this all Columbus’ fault? His defenders say, of course not. Diseases act in random ways and are influenced by many things including stress, food (or lack thereof), poverty and other cultural or economic factors. Discovery could have brought some of these conditions on, but they weren’t necessarily the primary cause. A defender of Columbus stated in his piece that there were already different diseases running rampant throughout the Native population before Columbus’ arrival. Columbus is also given credit for having been a visionary, having convinced the Spanish monarchs to provide him with three ships to sail the Atlantic in search of a newer, quicker route to Asia around the earth. In fact, Columbus failed in his attempt to find that quicker trade route to Asia. It would be Magellan who would circumnavigate the globe. And, Columbus is being blamed for what came in his wake – the Spanish conquistadors, the destruction of Native peoples, and even the African slave trade since that was linked with the opening up of the New World. Could this attack on Columbus also be a remnant of the Black Legend that grew to fantastical proportions as exaggerated by English Protestants as a way of discrediting the Spanish Catholics? Too much blame, much too much indeed, to put on one man’s shoulders.

Another way of looking at this is that when we celebrate Columbus Day, we celebrate America. Should we acknowledge both the good and the bad that come with America / Columbus? Or is it more patriotic to revel in America in a “Team America” way with unquestioning loyalty? Or, as the video below discusses, Columbus is a myth that we have embraced. Is this something that we should jettison?

Questions to consider: 1. Do we keep Columbus Day as is (meaning that it’s an official government / bank holiday) or do we acknowledge Columbus Day with a solemn reminder of what happened to the Native Americans afterwards?

2. Or do we pitch Columbus Day in favor of celebrating “Indigenous People’s Day”? Why? Or is there another option? If so, explain.

3. Would you be interested in finding out if our school board / local city / village governments officially celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples’ Day?  And should we – if we feel strongly enough about this – ask them to consider changing it?  Why or why not?  

Please use specific examples from the summer readings (and if you want to go down the Columbus rabbit hole, there’s a pdf in Schoology called Columbus Comparison – Shweikart vs. Zinn that compares a conservative historian’s and a Marxist professor’s take on Columbus).

300 words minimum due by Friday (9/9) by class.

Here’s an account of Detroit’s first celebration of Indigenous Peoples’ Day in place of Columbus Day –

An article arguing for keeping Columbus Day –

A video on why we celebrate Columbus Day (some good reasons about the history of Columbus Day):

The Breakfast Club’s discussion of Columbus Day – Why Native Americans Want to Celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day and not Columbus Day.

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Posted September 1, 2022 by geoffwickersham in category Blogs

58 thoughts on “Blog #145 – Columbus Day – what are your thoughts?

  1. Sylvie Ball

    I think that We do not keep Columbus day as a holiday. Keeping Columbus day as a holiday would be recognizing Columbus as a significant figure in history, and to some people he most certainly is (the italians) but we also have days like Dr.King day which means more to our history than Columbus. Here’s the thing, if we celebrate Columbus because he is the one who “found” our country then what is the whole point of that isn’t even true? He did a lot to harm the indigenous population and community.
    I honestly think that we can celebrate Columbus and the few good things he’s done for the Italian American community without giving him his own day. There are so many other influential people that have shaped America for the better that we can highlight. No, I don’t think we should dedicate a nationwide holiday to a man who did more harm than good. Instead I think we should shine more light on indigenous holidays and what they faced during that time. I suggest that we maybe add a national holiday to celebrate Italian American figures who have done things for their community. Columbus can be included if they want that. Only if they want that.
    I think if I would be able to make any kind of change I should probably start at the level I’m at. So go to the Schoolboard and the county. The thing about reaching out is that there are so many more influential people that are trying and trying to get this holiday abolished or changed. So if the school board and the county doesn’t work out I would probably take the step to find an organization that supports the same things I do in this situation and start supporting them and donating to them.

  2. Renna R

    I think Columbus Day should be replaced with Indigenous People’s Day. Columbus never even set foot in North America nor did he discover the “New World,” so there is no reason for him to have his own day. If the Indigenous people decide they want a different name or to have it on a different day then the government should cooperate with their wishes. The fact that the U.S. has celebrated Columbus Day and has been teaching children to honor him for years is an embarrassment and reflects poorly on the mindset of this country. If we were to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day, there would be a new idea of what the day is really meant to represent and kids would be more educated in school. Currently, young children are being taught to respect Columbus because he discovered America. If they were being taught the truth, the narrative about the origins of our country would be much different. We would not have to be retaught what actually happened when we got older because we would already know. When we were younger, we were taught about the realities of slavery but not a single thing about Indigenous slavery was mentioned.
    Columbus Day is celebrated still because nobody has taken the initiative to change it. For as long as it is a recognized holiday, young students will continue to learn about how incredible Columbus was and about all the amazing things he did for America. Italians who were discriminated against originally found a symbol in Columbus, but today there is a very different dynamic. There is no need to celebrate the man who caused the torture and death of the Indigenous people and who never made any meaningful discoveries besides being wrong about India’s location and how small the world was.

  3. Vincent

    I think we should celebrate Columbus day as a day of remembrance for the past and present Native Americas and possibly rename it to Indigenous Peoples Day. When most people think of Columbus day they think about how he “discovered” the Americas and how the Natives welcomed him with open arms. Columbus in fact was not the first European to travel to the Americas.The Vikings were one of the first Europeans to arrive in the Americas. I won’t disagree that the Vikings weren’t the best at sharing and the rest of 900’s Europe was probably in the dark about the New Land. Regardless, historians have lied and flooded the American population into believing that Columbus was kind and didn’t do anything to the Natives when Columbus and his crew enslaved the Natives and the slavery lasted into the 19 hundreds (well after African American slavery).

    We should try and make Indigenous peoples day a thing instead of supporting a murderous white crusader. When a group of crusaders landed in New Mexico they first described the Indigenous as beautiful and merciful. Later the Spanish had a change in heart about the Indigenous and described them as savages and less than human. Supporting the Natives of this land after centuries of forgetting that they exist is a good step in finally being respected by the US government.

    I would be in favor of finding out what communities and cities celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and I would want to convince the cities who still celebrate Columbus day to reconsider. States like South Dakota, California and Michigan have started to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day and have had a good deal of success with its residents. If the state of Michigan where we live celebrate Indigenous Peoples day I feel if cities in Michigan don’t respect this holiday we should try and suggest that they change their decisions.

  4. christina jones

    I think that eliminating Columbus day and replacing it with a day dedicated to commemorating, celebrating and remembering lost Indegenous lives and remaining Indegenous people is what’s right. To put it bluntly, there is no reason why we should continue to celebrate Columbus. He changed the course of history, yes, for the benefit of few, but the downfall of more. He set off a chain of events that led to the pain and bloodshed of many, and the fact that he conquered (already owned and inhabited lands) doesn’t change any of that. America claims that it’s moving forward, but we simply cannot while we are still celebrating a holiday that commemorates someone so terrible, even while we know better. If America is truly moving forward as it claims to do, getting rid of Columbus day and replacing it with Indegenous people’s day would be the first crucial step towards owning up to the ancestors’ mistakes. Continuing to celebrate a man whose actions led to the loss of so many lives is in no way synonymous with the progress we are claiming to be making.
    Pitching Columbus day makes a certain statement. It says that we are acknowledging the mistakes of the past, and choosing to move forward. It shows that we are at least attempting to make things right. Indegenous people’s day should be spent celebrating them as a people, celebrating their culture and acknowledging the bloodshed of the past. However, I am in no way saying that Columbus should be simply forgotten about. In fact, it’s important that we do not forget about him. Knowing about the past is crucial because you can learn from it. In schools, a segment of Indegenous people’s day should be spent talking about Columbus, yes, but truly educating kids instead of spoon-feeding them made-up stories about a terrible person is important.
    I would be very interested to see what other cities in metro-Detroit have decided, and I’d also like to see if the school board would be willing to change the childhood curriculum. I think that being aware of their decision, and their willingness to change is important, and it kind of tells us about the place that we live in.

  5. Samantha Jacobs

    I do not support Columbus Day as it currently is. I don’t disagree with the idea of marking the day Americas’ founders first discovered for- themselves- its land. However, I do not support the celebration of the holiday, due to the events that followed.

    According to United States History Preparing for the Advanced Placement Exam, when the Europeans arrived in 1492, they brought with them diseases such as Measles and Malaria. As the Natives had never encountered these before, they had no immunity, and millions died. The same source also explains that Spainiards not only stole the Natives’ wealth, but their king gave land and Natives to Spaniards to participate in a work-care for exchange. However, in reality, it was more of a slave-master situation. Those are just 2 of the many horrific things that Europeans did to the Natives. That is why I think we should alter Columbus Day to not only mark the day Columbus first found the Americas, but recognize it as calamity for the Natives.

    No matter what, I feel that we should at least change the name of the holiday. In “The Lies My Teacher Told Me”, it points out that only 2 men in American history have ever had a holiday appointed solely to them. Christopher Columbus- a man of violence- and Dr. Martin Luther King Junior- a man of peace. Using the name “Columbus Day” says that we not only condone, but appreciate the actions of a man who stole, enslaved, tortured, and murdered, and spearheaded the doing so to, millions of Native people.

    However, it is not what I think that matters. It should be left up to the Natives to decide what happens to the holiday, and if/in what manner a new one is created for them. I propose we ask the input of tribal leaders from all the remaining Native groups. (Notice that I said “remaining Nativegroups” because 90% of the Natives died after the Europeans came to the Americas, and many tribes were eradicated in the process.) As their ancestors were the ones wronged then, and they are the ones that continue to suffer at American hands, it should be their decision.

    Personally, I would be interested in finding out whether the area that I live in recognizes Columbus day and/or Indigenous peoples day. And, if they recognize Columbus day and not Indigenous peoples day, we should ask those with the power to change it, to do so. If you were to ask me why I say this, I would answer with two reasons: One, if you feel strongly about anything, it is up to you to do whatever you can to make it happen. A desire without action is simply a statement. And, two) Natives have suffered so much at the hands of the Americans, and nothing will ever make it right. However, it is up to us to prevent Natives from experiencing any further suffering at our hands.

  6. kaylin arthur

    I think Columbus Day should be replaced with Indigenous peoples’ day. Considering there is only one other national holiday that is devoted to someone (Martin Luther King Jr. Day), keeping Columbus Day would recognize Columbus as a hero, and dismiss the history of those that were there before Columbus. I don’t think he should have a national holiday after him, because he did more harm than he did good to those already here. I think learning about Columbus in school should not just focus on him, but also truly educate and focus on what really happened and what he really did.Also, I think we should focus on those who had an important role in discovering the Americas and learn about them as well.
    If America is truly trying to move forward, replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ day would be a good starting point. By doing so, this acknowledges the Indigenous Peoples past and what they faced during that time, and also celebrates their culture. This would provide an opportunity to learn more about the Indigenous population. It is important to know the truth to better understand those who found the place that we live.
    I would be interested in seeing what other cities in our area have decided about this topic, as well as finding out if the area celebrates Columbus Day or not. Also, seeing if schools would be willing to change their curriculum to show more of the truth about Columbus. Showing that he was not the first to discover the Americas, and that the Indigenous were there before him. Another thing would be to see how willing others are to change their opinions about this topic. I think knowing others’ opinions about this topic would tell us more about the community we live in and how open to change people are.

  7. Zackary Norwood

    I think that Columbus day should instead of being either kept or gotten rid of, it should instead be remodeled to not commemorate Columbus himself, but instead some of the history that was shaped or “formed” so to speak, due to his “discoveries”.
    Now I say that it should not be completely gotten rid of not because Columbus deserves to be commemorated, or otherwise celebrated nonetheless, but because of the importance and more of a effect that his actions had on the world. If he hadn’t came here and introduced the colonists to the America’s, then half of us probably wouldn’t be in the same place in life as we are now. Also, his adventures however important or unimportant they were, still mean a lot to a lot of people (mainly the Italians, who practically helped build the foundation of what America is today) And to completely ditch the whole idea of Columbus day, while it would show a bit more respect towards the natives, it would completely disrespect and overall, disregard, everyone else who helped in shaping the future we live in today.
    Anyways, while Columbus was by all means, not even a close to decent person, and his horrible acts committed against the natives should never be forgotten, nor forgiven; this does not mean that we should forget the achievements of all the others surrounding him, or even those who predate him. And if we just forget the events that unfolded when he set foot in America, then what good does that do for the population, native or not.
    So what I would propose given these reasons and circumstances would be to remodel Columbus day to for one, not commemorate Columbus and as such he should not be it’s namesake. And two, turn it into more of a remembrance day instead of a holiday, because people deserve to learn the truth about what happened so many years ago so they can make their own decisions and reach their own judgements on their own, not have a false, one sided story told to them; and as such, it should not be celebrated as a holiday where we all get together on a day off and celebrate a false idol whose story is covered up in lies.

  8. Anaiah Green

    We should acknowledge that Columbus found this country FOR SPAIN. But he was not the founder of this land we now call America. As we learned in the summer reading there were many other times people had been to North America before 1492. For instance, Bristol England 1481-1491, Ireland, via Iceland A.D. 600, 1304-1424 Polynesia and Siberia 70,000 B.C.-12,000B.C. We should acknowledge Columbus as a murderer and a colonizer. Along with the others who came after and colonized America from the Natives. 1: We do not keep Columbus day as it is. We acknowledge Columbus day with a solemn reminder of what happened to the Native Americans, people living freely and peacefully when white men came and killed, torched and enslaved them. 2: We should pitch Columbus Day in favor of celebrating Indigenous People’s Day. This day commemorates the years of suffering, enslavement and their lands being taken and we commemorate the ones who died from this genocide. 3 I think it would be interesting to know if our schoolboard etc. celebrate Columbas Day or Indigenous People’s day because it is important to know the type of people leading you. If they celebrate Columbus day I believe they should change it o Indigenous People’s Day for all the reasons I have previously listed above. Indeginous peoples day is a day I will celebrate from now forward. People should celebrate this day and educate themselves on the things that happened to the Native Americans. They should also learn how different tribes of Native Americans are living now. How they were given pieces of land in return for a whole country of land that was stolen from them. It may seem like they have been given a lot but many Indigenous People’s still face poverty, lack of resources, employment and education.

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