Sobremesa: The Santa María’s war path

Opening a new textbook for the first time involves the crisp crack of the spine and the smell of freshly inked pages. There is a feeling of dependability when reading a textbook — an expectation that all of its words are indisputable, cold, hard facts. When you say “in fourteen hundred ninety-two…” to a graduate of an American public school, some might continue with the rhyme, “Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” In American elementary school textbooks, we’re taught about the Niña, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Public education glorifies Columbus as a supernatural figure that discovered “unexplored” land. It is time we question this presentation: Are we giving children textbooks filled with facts, or fiction?

Monday, Oct. 12 was Indigenous Peoples Dayreferred to by some, including the federal government, as Columbus Day. Currently, only 14 states observe Indigenous Peoples Day, meaning the other 36 continue to celebrate genocide. Donald Trump even took to Twitter to write, “HAPPY COLUMBUS DAY TO ALL!” In a world full of contradicting information, it is important that we make our nation’s true history clear to our youth.

We must reform standard curricula to afford our youth an interdisciplinary, empathetic and historically accurate education on European colonization. We must teach students everything ranging from the search for God, gold and glory to the rich cultures and customs of Indigenous peoples. Rather than framing education about this epoch from the perspective of European people, we must learn from the point of view of Indigenous people. 

It is time we stop skimming over at least 15,000 years of meaningful history with coloring books of teepees and cardboard feather crowns. It is time to rewrite history, not to fit the image colonialism portrays of our country’s past, but to illustrate the vivid, saddening truth of the injustices that have taken place.

The transformation of this portrayal of history will undoubtedly affect the future of our nation. Today, inequitable medical treatment, low-quality education and environmental harm continue to disproportionately impact Native American communities. The American government and corporations have contributed toward the contamination of Indigenous peoples’ ground water, the pollution of their air and the dumping of hazardous waste nearby, as well as largely ignored substance abuse problems among their communities. Providing children with a truthful education about the experiences of Native American peoples in the United States will yield a generation of individuals prepared to disrupt systems of long-standing oppression.

Many Tufts students, including myself, make continuous efforts to relearn Native American history. This isn’t a straightforward journey but, rather, a complex process that requires the presentation of correct information and the space for open conversation, debate and raw honesty. It is time we change this process and create a world where future Tufts classes come to campus ready to expand on their knowledge of Native American history rather than learn it anew.