In 1492, who really sailed the ocean blue? A man sailed to the Americas and encountered the people who lived here. Then he and his band of 90 men virtually exterminated entire native populations by torture, murder, forced labor, starvation, disease and despair. They raped the women, burned their homes and killed hundreds of thousands of people.
In honor of one of the most evil men in history-a man who conducted a holocaust of the Native American people, a man who caused destruction to entire landscapes in the vain pursuit of precious metals-I would like to honor the great, the mighty, Christopher Columbus. So let us remember this spectacular human being on his day-Columbus Day!
But wait a second. This is not what we celebrate, right? That is not the Christopher Columbus we have grown to know and love. The Christopher Columbus in our history books and encyclopedias is a very different one. Our history books can only go by the few documents that exist-those that Columbus and his men wrote themselves. Those who are left after destruction and devastation naturally become the authors of history, so of course, their records and the records of their descendents look back favorably upon them.
I am disappointed that this country still honors Christopher Columbus with a national holiday. Nevertheless, I took the day off just like everyone else; but I have used my day off to write about the restoration of justice to Native Americans. A restoration that is centuries past due.
Consider this scenario:
You are on your way to Davis Square and you see a spaceship hovering right above Starbucks. And then CRASH! Starbucks is destroyed. Before you can catch your breath from the uncontrollable laughter you notice these big green dudes walking out of the ship. These things start coming out and they all have a different culture and language-you cannot understand a word they are trying to say.
The aliens begin to think humans are too primordial to be considered living beings with real feelings and emotions, so some of them start killing people and you jet back to your dorm room to call your mom. These big green dudes go on to destroy Davis Square, then Boston, then the US, then Mexico, and eventually they destroy every city throughout the world killing millions of people. You manage to survive, but there is not much left to survive for.
The aliens have completely taken over and colonized our planet! They have corralled us into small, divided pieces of land and kept us in poverty. They do establish an education system for us, but we dislike the fact that our children are lied to about what the aliens did to us.
They honor the captain responsible for the invasion as some amazing interplanetary voyager that “discovered” our planet and when they are challenged with the question, “Well, you guys killed millions of humans,” they respond by claiming that they killed millions of us because some Americans in the Midwest decided to fight back killing a handful of big green dudes.
You think to yourself, “That’s funny, I did not know we were lost to begin with-how could they have discovered us?” Once a year the world celebrates a holiday that you call “Alien Invasion Day,” but they laugh at your kind and name it after their captain.
They go on to make caricatures of humans and our cultures. Their margarine is called “Home of the Free” and they have sports teams called the “Quiznark Army-man” and the “Amidroit Stars & Stripes.” Their logos are designed to entertain other aliens by mocking our clothing and culture. We protest, but are largely invisible to them. We are seen as mere objects.
Imagine a similar scenario being a reality for many populations within the US. It is. Many of these events occurred in the past and there is not a lot we can do about them. We cannot bring back the people we have killed. The issues are complicated.
What we can do is acknowledge the history of violence that we have had with the indigenous people of the Americas. Then we can better understand the grievances that many of them have with the US. We cannot change the past, but we do have a responsibility to change the present and the future.
There are many contemporary issues that need to be addressed. Once we acknowledge the history we can begin to address the issues. One first step might be to change the name of this holiday to something that celebrates Native Americans and their culture.
Many will still argue that despite his shortcomings, Columbus was still a skilled navigator. If this is so, why did he end up in America when he was on his way to India? Also, he could not have “discovered” America if there were people already living there.
Le?f Ericsson landed on the continent 500 years before Columbus. Yet even if some still wish to recognize him for his navigation skills, why choose Columbus over all of the other skilled people that have come along throughout history?
We can then move on to address the declarations of war that the US still has against some tribes. Then we might be able to federally recognize all tribes that are not recognized already. Some of the other issues still not addressed include issues of health care and national sovereignty.
Let us build a new relationship with Native Americans-the First People of the Americas. They deserve an amicable relationship with us-the immigrants and children of immigrants to this land. We should educate ourselves about the history of our country from the perspective of those we have oppressed. We should actively confront these painful issues if we want them to ever be resolved.
“What passes for discovery in the traditional Columbus myth was really an invasion. It deserves no celebration.” -Bill Bigelow from his book, Rethinking Columbus.