Happy Indigenous Peoples Day

No to Columbus Day

October 12th has been designated as "Columbus Day," and the Monday closest to it is traditionally a national holiday in observance.  I grew up with the story - I'm sure that many of you did too - of how in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and discovered the New World, which eventually led to the founding of America.  And it was such a brave thing to do too, since in those days people believed the earth was flat.  But Columbus knew better and he risked a ship mutiny in order to show us all how the earth was round, and between that and the founding of America, that's why we pay homage to this man every year.  Great story - the problem is that 95% of it is untrue.

Others have discussed this in far more detail but essentially:

1n 1492, every educated person already knew that the world was round.  Columbus was sailing in order to find a new/faster trade route to Asia.  He was not the first to "discover" what would come to be known as the Americas.  Other explorers such as the Vikings and the Chinese had been there before him.  And other people had already settled on that land, namely the ancestors of the people Columbus met.  Columbus himself never set foot on land that is now considered part of the U.S.  And... Columbus was a horrible, horrible person, even by the standards of the 15th century!  In addition to systematic murder, rape, and mutiliation, he founded the cross-Atlantic slave trade.  All with the blessing of the Roman Catholic Church. (I love Catholicism but this was not one of their finer days.)  Columbus' horrific practices were in line with and set the precedent for how the Doctrine of Discovery would play out in the Americas, a world view that continues to influence policy against First Nations peoples even today.

If Columbus did not "discover" the "new world" and found the Americas, why is there a national holiday in the U.S. named after him?  Long story short, the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Italian American organization, wanted a day on which Italian Americans could express their ethnic pride.  So they lobbied for Columbus Day, and that's how it came to be. 

I totally understand the desire for a day in which Italian Americans can express pride in being Italian.  Other ethnic groups in the U.S. have their days and so should the Italians.  But Columbus is a horrble choice to honor as an Italan icon.  Is he really whom you want to represent your culture?  Why not Galileo, or St. Francis of Assisi, or Verdi, or Michelanagelo, or Da Vinci, or Dante, any number of amazing Italians.  Moreover, Columbus was not even Italian.  Most scholars now believe that he was Spanish. 

So, NO to Columbus Day.  YES to Indigenous Peoples Day.  (And yes, I know that Indigenous Peoples Day is reactionary, since it's on the exact same day as Columbus Day and exists because of it. But I have no problem with reactionary while we're in the beginning stages of resistance.)

But the main reason for my blog post today, aside from spreading the TRUTH about Columbus, is to address some pushback I've been reading. It's pushback that sounds so much like what I hear about First Nations issues in general.  Namely, "What happened is in the past."  This is followed by, depending on how friendly or hostile the speaker is to First Nations causes, "Why can't you just move on?" or "There are more important things to be fighting for."

The fight around Columbus day isn't just about Columbus the man - and in fact most of the popular stories told about him are made up anyway - nor is it about what happened in "the past."  What we are working for when we oppose Columbus day is the heart and soul of our shared society *today.* Holidays influence the way that we see the world. When we set aside a day each year to honor a man who colonized and conquered (and raped and maimed and committed genocide), then what we are saying is that these are the traits that we *continue* to value. When we repeat his fabricated story, we reinforce these values in our children. Opposing "Columbus Day" is not about the past or about a single man - it's about here and now and who we are and what we stand for.

So, NO to Columbus Day.  YES to Indigenous Peoples Day. 


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