Contrary to what most school children are taught, Columbus didn’t discover America, because there were people already living here. While most Americans see Columbus Day as a day of celebration, Native Americans do not. The arrival of Columbus and other European colonists marked the beginning of the end for many Native American societies. Scholars estimate that before colonization, the Native American population was between 40 million to 100 million, but now Native American numbers have dwindled to 2 percent of the population, according to The Guardian. At least nine American cities, including Seattle and Minneapolis, now celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day alongside Columbus Day.
Today, some people view Columbus as less of a heroic European adventurer and more of a bloodthirsty Italian mercenary employed by the Spanish government. An article in Raw Story collected some of Columbus’ writings about his first encounter with Native Americans. He brags about how easy it would be to subdue them and claims they would make great slaves. Bartolome de las Casas, a priest who was part of Columbus’ expedition to Cuba, documented the atrocities the colonists carried out against Native Americans in his book, The Devastation of the Indies.
He wrote, “Endless testimonies… prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives…. But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy. And the Christians, with their horses and swords and pikes began to carry out massacres and strange cruelties against them.”
Kshama Sawant, a member of the Seattle city council, said for Native Americans, Columbus Day is not a day of celebration, but rather a day that reminds them of the painful past.
“I think for most people who know the reality of colonialism, imperialism, the genocide that happened of the indigenous community, for them the idea of celebrating all of that via Columbus Day is quite abhorrent,” Sawant told The Huffington Post. “It was important to have the city of Seattle declare that they’re not going to be celebrating Columbus Day, they’re celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”
Sawant also pointed out that Indigenous Peoples’ Day was a way of drawing attention to the plight of Native Americans. Apart from having their numbers dwindled to a fraction of the population, Native Americans are also in dire economic straights. According to HuffPost, more than one in three Native American children live in poverty and Native Americans have the highest high school dropout rate among all ethnic groups.
The decision to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day alongside Columbus Day is not without controversy. Italian American groups and Minneapolis labor unions protested the move. Alondra Cano, a Minneapolis city council member, said a representative from the city’s labor unions opposed the resolution. The labor representative said Columbus brought “wonderful things” to the Americas.
Although some critics might say this is an example of a politically correct culture run amok, it seems Americans are beginning take a more accurate look at historical events such as colonialism and slavery.
“I think that we need a major shift away from the way history is taught in our schools and towards teaching the accurate history,” Sawant told the HuffPost.