Who We Should Celebrate Instead of Christopher Columbus

Celebrating Columbus
Celebrating Columbus

Monday, October 12 in the United States is known as “Columbus Day“. This is a federal holiday when schools, banks, and the  post office closes so that department stores can entice people into malls with the promise of sales.

Sale aside, this is one holiday, that needs rethinking.

Like me, you may have grown up singing “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue…” and listed the names of his requisite ships, etc. The tale was about bravado, wealth, and conquest. European countries, through gunpowder and sails, took the world’s resources as their own, by creating colonies. As a postcolonial specialist, I can tell you this was very harmful both to the lands and the people who lived on them.

I wad drafting this blog post and then came across this article by James Nevius. He’s put together a cogent argument for Indigenous People’s Day – flipping the coin on the way we remember this story.

Until recently we haven’t heard about  the “300,000 natives [that lived] on Hispaniola [modern day Haiti and the Dominican Republic] when Columbus arrived.” In 1550, less than 100 years later, “there were just 500. Many had been killed by disease or Spanish soldiers; others had been enslaved and sent back to Spain. A huge number simply took their own lives rather than live under Spanish rule.” Historians like Laurence Bergreen help us understand that his-story is passed down by the winners.

By the way, we also dress up Thanksgiving as a love feast, when really native tribes helped colonizers live through a harsh winter, only to take their very land from beneath them ….

The great thing about Indigenous People Day is that those living in a place would learn about the tribes and communities who lived there before them. And a time to honor those tribes that have managed to hang on, in the margins of society. Several cities on the American west coast have already adopted this celebration in place of Columbus Day.

Do you think we should celebrate the two side by side? Or keep things as they are?

What holidays would you like to see adapted or modified?