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Columbus vs. Indigenous Peoples Day - Is it Time to Change the Calendar?

Updated on October 11, 2015
This grim portrait captures the brutal side of Columbus's personality.
This grim portrait captures the brutal side of Columbus's personality. | Source

Hype

I don't get the hype behind Christopher Columbus. The truth is that I never did, and it isn't completely about politics or human rights violations. Yes, he did commit unspeakable atrocities against indigenous peoples, but it pains me to say that all sorts of similar atrocities occurred in the United States of America, and which famous guy do you point the finger at first? This is not to say I am good with such deeds or advocate them, it's just that I recognize their ugly reality in American history.

No, my real beef with Columbus is that he gets too much credit for accomplishments he stumbled upon by accident. He was a horrible geographer and navigator who miscalculated the size of the planet. Even the ancient Greeks knew the size of the Earth to within a respectable margin of error, but Columbus thought the globe was significantly smaller than what learned people throughout the world knew to be true. That was why he was looking for India in a place that India wasn't, and as should have been expected he didn't find it there. It is true that we all lived happily ever after because of his miscalculation, but to say he was a groundbreaking visionary whose wild ideas were ultimately vindicated is just laying it on too thick.

Christopher Columbus"s true skill was as a snake oil salesman. Simply put, he sold King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella a bill of goods, by somehow convincing them to finance a voyage that would find the riches of India halfway around the world from it. In this fashion he accidentally discovered America, and that is why we name movie studios, universities, state capitals, even entire countries after him; even progressing to the insanity of giving him his own day. I'll confess I enjoy getting this paid federal holiday off as much as the next guy and don't want to jinx it. All the same, whether it be white man's guilt or recognition that there is a significant component of our American heritage that has been left unfairly ignored for centuries, I have come to support the idea that we should redirect this day toward the indigenous people that this highly overrated European so brutally pushed aside.

Brilliant voyage of discovery, or accidental landfall?
Brilliant voyage of discovery, or accidental landfall? | Source

Miscalculation

If Christopher Columbus was alive today we would call him a conspiracy theorist, classifying him in the same category as the Apollo moon mission debunkers or Hollow Earth advocates. He was not a trained scholar, but he read a lot of books, and read them wrong. In his befuddled interpretations of ancient texts he confused the 7,091 Arabic nautical mile for the 4,856 foot Roman one, a misreading that reduced the planet's circumference by roughly 5,000 nautical miles, in Columbus's overly optimistic scenario. Without doubt he wasn't very good at the chart making job he used to support himself prior to being Admiral of the Ocean Sea, but he possessed the redeeming quality of arguing loudly enough and long enough to drown out reasonable people who disagreed with him. In this fashion he gained an audience with the King and Queen of Spain and managed to force feed them his half baked theories on terrestrial geography.

Columbus may have been a keen proponent of Nostradamus as well if the famed seer had not been born only three years before the explorer's death, because he used prophecies as part of the basis for his proposed explorations. As part of his attempt to sell his scheme to the monarchs of Spain, Columbus cited a passage of Scripture making the claim that the world is six parts Earth to one part water. If he lived today Chris Columbus might make a killing selling books on George Noory late night Coast to Coast AM talk radio, but we definitely would not give him his own day. Imagine Columbus in 2015, going before the President and trying to sell him on a quick trip to Mars because, in his estimation, the red planet was only 25 million, not 33.9 million miles away. The professional astronomers would laugh him out of the room.

To excuse Columbus's lack of geographical acumen, the idea has been circulated throughout American history that in the explorer's time everyone believed the Earth was flat, and that he fought an uphill battle trying to convince folks that it is actually round. Even though I was taught this notion like gospel in elementary school, it is not true. Again, from the time of the Greeks onward everybody with half a brain knew that the Earth was a sphere. Mathematicians had proven this and then tested it time and time again. If Ferdinand and Isabella really had to be convinced the Earth was not flat they were the victims of really bad royal family inbreeding, which considering that era I should allow a margin of possibility for.

As an indication of Columbus's less than astute interpretation of the proper configuration of the Earth's landmasses, the great navigator was eventually discredited for having missed his mark, not to mention the gold and spices, by several thousand miles. Even so, the Admiral swore to his dying day that he had found India and should be richly compensated for it. It was only years later, after conquistadores under Cortez discovered massive amounts of gold in Mexico and conquistadores under Pizarro in Peru found the same, that Columbus' status was reversed and he began to be revered as a hero.

Bad inbreeding, or victimized by a slick used car salesman?
Bad inbreeding, or victimized by a slick used car salesman? | Source

Brutality

American history was written by the victors of our three century battle against its native peoples, meaning white Europeans. Up until very recently, the prevailing view of the conquerors was that Christopher Columbus was an enlightened explorer who simply was trying to increase mankind's knowledge while at the same time bringing the blessings of Christianity to the brown skinned inhabitants of the islands he discovered. When I was a boy, I read children's versions of Columbus's explorations that made it sound like the natives were delighted with his visit and went out of their way to live in happy harmony with the godsend of Spanish occupation. It is only very recently that historians have reevaluated Columbus's deeds in a more critical light, exposing his brutal treatment not only of the indigenous people that he encountered, but also of the Spanish colonists under his charge as Viceroy.

Columbus did not waste time demonstrating the transformations that European civilization would bring about. The explorer himself wrote "As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts." This, after the Arawak natives reportedly ran to greet the Spaniards on the shore, generously bearing them food, water, and gifts.

In no uncertain terms, Columbus was looking for gold. He had promised gold and spices to the King and Queen and if he had to take a few hostages to get at them then so be it. The Arawaks had the great misfortune of wearing gold earrings around the avaricious Spaniards, and spurred on by this little tease the conquerors spared nobody in their insane, lustful desire to get to the source of the precious metal.

On his second voyage to the New World Columbus returned with 17 ships and 1200 men, looking for gold and slaves. The conquerors loaded Arawaks into pens surrounded by Spaniards and dogs, and began to ship "Indians" back to Spain to put them up for sale. All natives fourteen and over on the island of Hispaniola, in what is now the half of the island known as Haiti, were ordered to deliver a certain quantity of gold every three months, on pain of having their hands cut off. Since there were no significant gold deposits on Haiti, Indians were hunted down with dogs and killed when they fled this cruel treatment. In two years after the arrival of the Europeans half of the natives on Hispaniola were dead through murder or suicide after being worked to death on plantations or in the mines. By 1550, 58 years after "In the year of 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue," a pleasant little rhyme most of us were taught in the first grade, the Arawaks were completely exterminated.

Accusations of brutality against Columbus and his brothers were also made by Spanish settlers on Hispaniola, reports being leveled that they used torture and mutilation to govern the colony. Columbus's brother Bartolome had a woman paraded through the streets naked, and afterward cut out her tongue for suggesting that Christopher was of low birth. The Columbus regime punished thieves with physical mutilation. I didn't read about any of these unsettling events in the cheery pro-Columbus propaganda picture books I checked out in the elementary school library.

Learn the truths they didn't teach you in school...

Peaceful conqueror or genocidal mass murderer?
Peaceful conqueror or genocidal mass murderer? | Source

Celebration

Despite the darker, seedier, glossed over portions of Columbus's history, the Admiral of the Ocean Sea has been widely lauded and celebrated in the United States and other countries across the planet. The reason I am up late, feverishly trying to finish this article, is because I don't have to work tomorrow, thanks to good old Chris Columbus. The federal holiday he secured for me and other federal employees (in California it is not a recognized state holiday), was finally enacted in 1934 after heavy lobbying by Italian Americans and the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic fraternal service organization.

I'm not here to criticize Catholics, being a Catholic too, but I have always questioned the need for grown men to gather in secret boy's clubs like the Knights of Columbus, with its secret handshakes, secret decoder rings, and the opportunity to level up if you play long enough and skillfully enough. But in respect to secrecy didn't Christ say "...whatever you have said in the dark will be heard in the light, and what you have whispered in the inner rooms will be proclaimed upon the housetops. (Luke 12:3)"? What was decided in the secret inner rooms of these organizations is that Catholics needed a holiday for for one of their heroes, particularly an Italian hero. In case I neglected to mention it, assuming that this fact was beaten into your head right after the pledge of allegiance as it was into mine every October, Christopher Columbus was an Italian sailing for Spain.

It seems like the Italians could have picked a better candidate for a holiday. Julius Caesar, perhaps? Michelangelo the brilliant sculptor, Enrico Fermi the physicist, Marconi of radio fame, or if you insist upon an explorer or geographer, why not Marco Polo or even Amerigo Vespucci, the explorer from whom our American continents derive their name and who turned out to be the "smart" Italian navigator who finally corrected Columbus's mistakes and confirmed that the Americas were a landmass separate from Asia.

Or maybe we have enough Europeans on the calendar already. Maybe it is time to revisit a much neglected part of our American heritage and give credit where credit is due.

Columbus may have gotten a country named after him, but Amerigo Vespucci has two whole continents.  Still, in the US fellow Italian Chris seems to get all the love.
Columbus may have gotten a country named after him, but Amerigo Vespucci has two whole continents. Still, in the US fellow Italian Chris seems to get all the love. | Source

Heritage

Just recently I saw on a Facebook post that the city of Seattle, Washington had changed Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Since 1977, when the idea was first proposed at a United Stations forum in Geneva, Switzerland, an Indigenous Peoples Day movement has been growing in native populations across the Americas, among whom Christopher Columbus is viewed not as a national hero, but as an instrument of genocide and enslavement. The holiday was first enacted in Berkeley, California in 1992, and is slowly gathering steam as Americans from my day and age learn the truth behind the unblemished pictures of the Nina, Pinta, and the Santa Maria, and a new generation of schoolchildren is taught a new version of history that includes the dark side of the Columbus story.

Some municipalities, such as San Francisco, California, have ditched the Columbus Day label in favor of less offensive holiday names, such as Italian Heritage Day. Other cities, such as Columbus, Ohio, of all places, have simply canceled all parades, festivities, and other forms of recognition of the event completely.

Being an overpaid and underworked federal employee, I of course believe that the second Monday in October should continue to be celebrated in perpetuity, but with a different purpose. Instead of feting the lost mapmaker, why not honor the legacy of the people whose extermination Columbus initiated when he landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492? This little comeuppance is not much to give back to proud people who were killed outright, sold into slavery, worked to death on mines and plantations, then decimated by European diseases, but Columbus is definitely a thorn in their sides who, in my opinion, doesn't merit the recognition - based on his record as a bad geographer, but mostly as a cruel plunderer and murderer of native populations.


Time to swap the lost navigator in favor of a neglected part of our cultural heritage?
Time to swap the lost navigator in favor of a neglected part of our cultural heritage? | Source

Sound off!

Do you support making the second Monday in October Indigenous Peoples Day on the Federal level

See results

A Fascinating, Revealing Video

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    • lovemychris profile image

      Yes Dear 19 months ago from Cape Cod, USA

      People here hold a protest every thanksgiving at Plymouth Rock.

      Seems they're not grateful for the conquest, and should probly not give reverence to a conquistador like Columbus.

      Remember Neil Young song Cortez the Killer?

      We should all listen to it in celebration today.

    • Ericdierker profile image

      Eric Dierker 19 months ago from Spring Valley, CA. U.S.A.

      Holiday smalliday, I love postal holidays I can hide from my bills one day longer. They should start making Internet holidays so we get a break from autopay. Columbus is the perfect day for a federal holiday. It reminds us that our federal government is as stupid and the kings and queens of his time. Personally I have issue with lumping all "indigenous" people together for a holiday. Each tribe is a nation. Each nation is different. In my day as a youngster if you would have lumped the Hopi and the Navajo together in one day you would have had an uprising. We did not commit "a" genocide we committed literally hundreds of them.

      Oh well a holiday for an idiot is just an idiot holiday.

    • Jodah profile image

      John Hansen 19 months ago from Queensland Australia

      Wow! This article was certainly an eye opener Mel. I had no idea of the atrocities Columbus was guilty of. I should have realised due to my own country's tainted past and treatment of our indigenous people. We were never taught about the slaughter and indignities committed against the Aboriginals either in our school history. It has only been in recent years that the true history has been reported and an apology issued by our Prime Minister Kevin Rudd (at the time). Thank you for sharing this and bringing awareness. I think the holiday should be changed to " Indigenous Peoples' Day" across the country.

    • billybuc profile image

      Bill Holland 19 months ago from Olympia, WA

      This may well be the dumbest holiday we celebrate and for all the reasons you mention plus some. I was watching a comedian do a bit on Columbus Day the other day and although it was hilarious it was also true...let's celebrate a man for slaughtering people.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you lovemychris. I love the artist, and love the song. I don't want to get carried away with white man's guilt, after all we are here for a reason, but the real Columbus just doesn't measure up to the hype. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      That is true Eric Dierker. Many of these tribes hated each other more than they hated us, which made it easy to divide and conquer. Unfortunately there are not enough days on the calendar for all of them, so sooner or later we have to pop open that mailbox and face the music. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Jodah. This happened wherever Europeans touched down. My son made an interesting point last night that if we were to colonize another planet today and find an alien race there we would probably slaughter them too. We tend to see others who are not like us as animals, hence we can morally justify their destruction. Interesting parallels with Australia. I appreciate you dropping in.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Well Bill, I have to thank Chris for getting me a day off and my son's middle name is Christopher, but we certainly weren't thinking about Columbus when we picked it. But in Germany they certainly aren't celebrating Adolf Hitler day, and this is a little like that. Thanks for reading!

    • Farawaytree profile image

      Michelle Zunter 19 months ago from California

      Great hub. I think many if us would agree on this.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Farawaytree. Regardless of political affiliation, I don't think it's a reach to think that genocidal maniacs of substandard intellect should not be honored with their own holiday. I appreciate you dropping in.

    • Farawaytree profile image

      Michelle Zunter 19 months ago from California

      There's nothing political about calling out ignorant mass murderers. :)

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      You are right about that, but I'm still waiting for the trolls to pop in and chastise me for my "liberal" accusations against Columbus.

    • Farawaytree profile image

      Michelle Zunter 19 months ago from California

      Well, unfortunately for them you have actual historical facts behind your "liberal", or as I say "logical" opinion.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Putting those two 'L' words together is really going to set off some alarms over at Troll Central.

    • Farawaytree profile image

      Michelle Zunter 19 months ago from California

      LOL. LOVE IT.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Two more L words.

    • MizBejabbers profile image

      MizBejabbers 19 months ago

      This is a fantastic article, Mel. I'm glad that people are starting to wake up and smell the coffee, as Ann Landers used to say. I see no reason to venerate a murderer and torturer like Columbus. Being of "indigenous people" and European blood, though, I do wonder where those of us would be if this land had not been conquered by Europeans. Would we have been European or native? My husband is over half Cherokee and he doesn't recognize Independence Day. "Whose independence?" he asks.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      I can certainly understand your husband's sentiments Miz Bejabbers after the trail of tears. My Great Grandfather was half Cherokee. Columbus is an affront to these people. If Columbus really was a great man we might just have to say deal with his blemishes. After all, Washington and Jefferson were slave owners, but he doesn't rise to that level. Thanks for reading!

    • profile image

      Pat Mills 19 months ago from East Chicago, Indiana

      I'm with celebrating the first people who were here, and not the Europeans who killed and plundered. This way, you can still have an off day. In 2014, John Oliver did a great "How Is This Still A Thing?" piece last year on Last Week Tonight. It captures your sentiments perfectly, and can be seen on YouTube.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      I will have to check that out Mills P. Sometimes the best way to change things is to laugh at them. Thanks for reading!

    • DWDavisRSL profile image

      DW Davis 19 months ago from Eastern NC

      As there is no race of humans indigenous to what are now called the American continents, I think a better term might be Pre-Columbian Peoples Day or First Migrants Day. All humans in the Americas are descended from people who migrated here from elsewhere. None are native to these lands.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
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      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Well no, that's true, we all csme from Asia, Africa really if you gi back even further, but they did get here first and are an important part of our heritage that is not recognized by any holiday as far as I know. Maybe Thanksgiving, but they have to share that with Pilgrims. Thanks for reading.

    • AliciaC profile image

      Linda Crampton 19 months ago from British Columbia, Canada

      This is a great hub, Mel. I've never researched or even thought much about Columbus Day in all the time that I've lived in North America, but a post that I read on Facebook stimulated me to read about it this year. What an eye opener! I absolutely agree with you that Columbus Day should be changed, preferably to Indigenous Peoples Day. In my opinion, there is no way that Christopher Columbus should be honoured with his own day.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you Linda. I am guessing that Columbus would be somewhat revered in Canada as well, though I am not sure to what extent. Canada has its own indigenous peoples who I am sure dont look upon him fondly. I appreciate you dropping by!

    • DDE profile image

      Devika Primić 19 months ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

      Wow! I heard of Columbus Day, just briefly. You did a fantastic job here with the importance and the great explanations. I enjoyed reading and learning from you. Thank you for this learning lesson.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      I am glad I could teach you a little about Columbus, Devika. Thanks for stopping by anf commenting.

    • Dana Tate profile image

      Dana Tate 19 months ago from LOS ANGELES

      This was a nice history lesson for me. This man was so unmemorable for me all I remember is the schools version of how he "supposedly" discovered America, which was odd considering the land was already being inhabited when he set foot on it. Unfortunately with America's hero's we must do our own research to find out who they truly were. Great hub.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      You are right, Dana Tate. Since I have been writing seriously and researching I am finding out that a lot of the history I thought I knew I really don't know at all. Thanks for reading!

    • Larry Rankin profile image

      Larry Rankin 19 months ago from Oklahoma

      The Christopher Columbus holiday is one I do not take lightly. On one hand, many of my friends are full blood or close to full blood Native Americans, including my wife. I even am of some Native American ancestry, as most Oklahomans are.

      On the other hand, Itallians have been wrongly treated in this country and stereotyped, as well.

      After heavy consideration, I support Columbus Day with a few modifications. Quit saying he discovered the Americas. There were already people here. There is even evidence that the Vikings and perhaps the Asians made the trip across the ocean 1st.

      That said, he did find the Americas for most of Europe, and this was a significant undertaking at the time, even if he was lost when he found it.

      Wonderful read, as always, Mel.

    • kalinin1158 profile image

      Lana Zakinov 19 months ago from California

      Great article Mel! It's certainly atrocious what happened to the Native Americans after Columbus triumphantly "discovered" the land, and celebrating Columbus Day just seems to add insult to the injury. So out with Columbus Day, in with the Indigenous Peoples Day! Also, go Seattle!! I hope to visit it someday.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      The more I think about it Larry, honoring Columbus this way is like the Germans celebrating Hitler day. Yes I know many of the great Americans had their baggage, but Columbus just seemed megalomaniacally bent on enriching himself at all costs. Thanks for reading!

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you for checking in Svetlana. We could use some Seattle clouds here in Chula Vista right about now. Our air conditioner is broken and this heat wave is atrocious. Glad you concurred with the need to refrashion this holiday.

    • sujaya venkatesh profile image

      sujaya venkatesh 19 months ago

      an informative hub

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      Thank you sujaya, glad you found it so.

    • aviannovice profile image

      Deb Hirt 19 months ago from Stillwater, OK

      When I was a youth, I had an answer for everything, as I read a great deal. I happened to be asked by my teacher to state Columbus' accomplishments, and to make a long story short, I stated that he certainly did not discover America, as it was inhabited and therefore, needed no "discovering". I was told that I was wrong, and fifty years later, I am proven correct. Pretty sad, isn't it?

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 19 months ago from San Diego California

      You were way ahead of the curve Deb, and you continue to impress by staying one step ahead of the rest of us stragglers. I sort of liked Columbus as a kid, but in elementary school they didn't tell us the part about how he hacked people to death when they didn't bring gold. Thanks for reading!

    • ladyguitarpicker profile image

      stella vadakin 18 months ago from 3460NW 50 St Bell, Fl32619

      I like to her the truth about Columbus and everyone should know the truth and not teach the kids a bunch of garbage. I must be a liberal, great hub.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 18 months ago from San Diego California

      If accepting the truth makes us liberal then I must be one too Stella, even though I don't like tags. Thanks fot reading!

    • DWDavisRSL profile image

      DW Davis 18 months ago from Eastern NC

      Mel, you mentioned earlier that there wasn't a day set aside to honor the First Americans but I recently saw that the month of November has been designated as Native American Heritage Month. Was not sure if you knew, so thought I'd pass that along.

    • Mel Carriere profile image
      Author

      Mel Carriere 18 months ago from San Diego California

      DWDavisRSL I think that's great but you can't give people the entire month of November off in commemoration. You need one specific day like MLK day to say "we're doing this to remember your contributions. " Thanks for reading!

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