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happy indigenous peoples’ day (my yearly columbus day rant)

October 8, 2012

Sigh. Another year, another Columbus Day.

Out of all our national holidays, I think this one pisses me off the most. Essentially, it celebrates a man who not only ‘discovered’ land that was already inhabited (Hispaniola), but a person who helped to literally wipe that land of its original inhabitants, the peaceful Arawaks, through his unbelievable cruelty, and that of those who followed him to the ‘New World’ (which itself is a very Eurocentric designation).

The Arawaks initially greeted Columbus and his crew with gifts and open arms. Of them, Columbus himself writes things like, “They are the best people in the world and above all the gentlest—without knowledge of what is evil—nor do they murder or steal … they love their neighbors as themselves and they have the sweetest talk in the world … always laughing” and “They are very simple and honest and exceedingly liberal with all they have, none of them refusing anything he may possess when he is asked for it. They exhibit great love toward all others in preference to themselves.” As well as things like, “They would make fine servants. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

While simply passing judgment upon the actions of people long since dead doesn’t serve much of a purpose, I think it’s important to at least remember them and accept that they form an integral part of our nation’s history, and a truly ugly part at that. I think this is especially important since the trend (particularly in school textbooks) has been to mythologize people like Columbus and their accomplishments while downplaying many of the negative things they also did, some of which were truly heinous acts. But these things shouldn’t be glossed over, in my opinion; they should be reflected upon so that they’re never forgotten—a reminder of the terrible price exacted by Mammon.

What happened to these poor people, and what eventually happened to numerous other tribes in the Americas, was nothing short of genocide; and I don’t think we should celebrate the main architect of this inaugural (not to mention extremely brutal) land-grab as a hero with his own a national holiday. It not only dishonours the memory of the Arawaks and the other indigenous inhabitants who directly suffered at the hands of Columbus, his men, and those who followed, but I think it dishonours the descendants of all of the Americas’ native inhabitants as well. If anything, today should be renamed Indigenous Peoples’ Day in their honour.

And for anyone reading this who may be unfamiliar with the full history behind Columbus Day, I recommend checking out this excerpt from Howard Zinn’s Columbus and Western Civilization, as well as this clip from The Canary Effect.


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