October 9, 2017
Columbus Day Holiday/Indigenous People’s Day
From the old perspective, the story features Christopher Columbus, the Italian explorer, patronized by Ferdinand and Isabella, sailing West from Spain with 3 ships to reach Asia. After 33 days at sea, his crew spotted or “discovered” the Bahamas. What Columbus discovered was an island with a native population and culture that was alive and thriving before his arrival. Since Ferdinand and Isabella were greedy to amass more power, and spread their Spanish empire, Columbus’ discovery was actually a conquest of whatever he could lay his hands on.
It’s another case of where history is written by the winners. And the guy with the biggest gun wins! Spanish canons and iron weapons vs. the natives’ reed spears. So what’s to celebrate? Europe invaded the Americas as a new resource to rape, plunder and colonize. Centuries later, as a lasting result of Columbus’ “discovery,” Central and South Americans speak Spanish and Portuguese.
If we switch the perspective to the view the 3 massive ships arriving in the harbor of the Caribbean Island, we can try and imagine what the native people felt upon seeing Columbus’ fleet for the first time. Columbus’ diary describes the islanders as curious, friendly and generous. He sizes them up as easily manipulated, well built for servants/slaves. And the story for the native peoples becomes tragic very quickly.
In 1977, the United Nations sponsored a conference on discrimination from which the “Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People” was born. It promoted programs in schools and museums to honor the Native American culture. In 1992, Berkeley, CA claimed October 12th as Indigenous Peoples’ Day, thus upstaging Columbus’ hero status. Many American towns and cities are actually voting to replace the traditional parade for the conqueror with the more thoughtful focus on those whose ancestors were the conquered people.
The fact that people are thinking and growing, reevaluating history and changing celebrations is definitely worth a holiday! Hurrah.
Howard Zinn, A Peoples History of the United States