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Should Columbus Day be renamed for Native Americans?

35 Comments

For most Americans, Columbus Day -- Oct 12 -- was little more than a day off and a chance to get some final sunshine before winter. For the descendants of the indigenous populations of the Americas, it must feel rather different.

Native Americans and other campaigners have been calling for a "reimagining" of Columbus Day. Rather than lionizing - or simply commemorating - the Italian-born explorer, they say, the day should focus on those who lived on this side of the Atlantic for thousands of years beforehand. What happened to them, they believe, has been sidelined, and almost wiped from the history books.

It's hard not to see their point. Even now, Native Americans are remarkably marginalized.

Christopher Columbus himself, of course, has always been a somewhat problematic historical character: unreliable navigator, relentless self-publicist, chaotic colonial administrator and, many historians believe, probable mass murderer.

He certainly had guts. His entire 1492 expedition relied on the world being round - which most people had believed since the ancient Greeks, but no one had actually proved.

The Spanish-financed Columbus was relying on some distinctly dodgy geographical estimates, partly because he confused Arabic and Roman miles. He thought Japan was not much more than 1,800 miles from his departure point in Cadiz. In fact, it was four times that. Had the Americas not existed, he and his crew would have died in the ocean when their supplies ran out.

What was good news for the Europeans, though, was devastating for those already there.

Franciscan friar Bartolome de la Cassas estimated that within the first 14 years of the 1494 establishment of a colony, some 3 million people - 98% of the pre-discovery population - had died of disease, slaughter by the Spanish or been worked to death as forced labor. "Who in future generations will believe this?" he wrote. "I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it."

Even if de la Cassas was wrong on the scale of the numbers, here clearly was a population collapse that would today be almost certainly referred to as genocide.

All of this, of course, happened well outside what is now the United States and well before its creation. But the brutal truth, Native American campaigners point out - remarkably gently, all things considered - is that what happened with Columbus opened the door to something very similar across a much wider area.

Upper estimates suggest the Native American population of what is now the United States might have peaked as high as 18 million before disease and deportations began to take their toll (although others put it significantly lower). By 1800, that number had crashed to 900,000. By 1900, only 250,000 remained - this at a time when the population descended from Europeans was skyrocketing.

Columbus, of course, was a man of his time. His fellow explorers were raised against the backdrop of the savage wars with Muslims for the future of Spain. The horrors and brutality of the Reformation were only decades away.

The Indian Wars of the 19th century - which finished only in the 1870s in the aftermath of the American Civil War - were scarcely less brutal. And for all the brutality of some of the native atrocities against settlers, there was a brutality to the U.S. government response that still shocks. Behind it, of course, was the semi-religious certainty of America's "manifest destiny" that backed the ever-expanding westward settlements.

General William Tecumseh Sherman, commanding U.S. troops in Mississippi, wrote bluntly: "We must act with vindictive earnestness against the Sioux, even to their extermination, men, women and children." His successor, General Philip Henry Sheridan, talked more euphemistically of the "reduction of the tribes."

Sheridan's strategy involved not just military action, but the mass slaughter of the wild prairie buffalo on whom the tribes depended.

"We took away their country and their means of support, broke up their means of living, introduced disease and decay among them and it was for this and against this they made war," Sheridan later wrote. "Could anyone expect less?"

Since then, the Native American population has begun to recover. The 2010 U.S. census recorded 2.9 million people identifying as Native American or Alaskan, 0.9% of the total U.S. population, with another 2.3 million self-identifying as Native American and mixed race. Still, they remain among the most marginalized groups in the country - even compared to newly-arrived immigrants.

According to a report published last month by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), young adult male American Indian and Alaska Native (AIAN) had the highest rate of suicide of any group in the country - 34 deaths per thousand in the 18-24 bracket, more than twice most other groups. And that, the CDC concluded, was probably an underestimate - many suicides were not reported, they also found.

Things may be slowly changing, though. The Native American population is now no longer just confined to distant reservations: some 70% were recorded living in urban areas in 2012, up from 45% in 1970 and only eight percent in 1940. As with African-Americans, urbanization brings with it greater political activity and clout - even if it also brings new social problems like gang crime.

The campaign to rename Columbus Day, growing slowly since the 1970s, might be the strongest sign yet. Four states - Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon and South Dakota, all with considerable indigenous populations - have already replaced it with "Native American" or "Indigenous Peoples Day." Last year, the cities of Minneapolis and Seattle joined them.

It has been a long time coming.

© (c) Copyright Thomson Reuters 2015.

©2019 GPlusMedia Inc.

35 Comments
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It should be called the beginnig of the holocaust on Native Americans throught the continent ... North, Central & South and the Carbbean.

9 ( +11 / -2 )

Taking from Columbus isn't giving to the indigenous People of the Americas.

Columbus can't really be blamed for the savagery of Sherman and Sheridan.

The Japanese are constantly pressed for atonement.

Are the Americans subject to the same recognition of conscience?

3 ( +6 / -3 )

"They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned... . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane... . They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."

Columbus.

Yeah - 18 million (3 times the nazi - caused holocaust) died because of this, and they're still debating over there... Oh, the hypocrisy...

7 ( +11 / -4 )

Yeah - 18 million (3 times the nazi - caused holocaust) died because of this, and they're still debating over there... Oh, the hypocrisy...

Even if you take the very high estimate of 18 million, the overwhelming majority of those deaths were due to the introduction of European diseases. Considering that colonization began some 400 years before the germ theory of disease was developed, it seems rather intellectually dishonest to claim that as genocide. Never-mind that it was a completely different time. If you're going to go back to the 15th century to cry about historical grievances, you might as well start demanding the modern day Mongolians apologize for Genghis Khan or the modern day Turks rename Istanbul.

0 ( +8 / -8 )

lllyas at least the people who were under Genghis Khan's rule was given a choice. Maybe it was him or death but nevertheless they were given a choice to stay where they lived, practice religion as they wish and contribute to the Silk Road that linked most of Western Asian with Eastern Asia. Sure there were some village he didn't give a damn about but it's far better than what was done to the native Americans.

5 ( +8 / -3 )

@Illyas, I'd agree that it's inappropriate to call the Indigenous American deaths caused by European diseases genocide, because that implies an intentionality that didn't exist at the time. Later, possibly. But not when the real damage was done.

However, to otherwise defend America's celebration of Columbus just because some other Europeans were equally barbaric, bigoted, and greedy is pretty weak tea. We don't owe a celebration to historical figures who don't reflect our values, and Columbus most certainly does not reflect most Americans' values. Let cities where people choose not to celebrate him have their choice.

2 ( +5 / -3 )

I would prefer American Indian day. After all they were the original discovers of the continent. Little really has changed according to government statistics an unarmed America Indian male stand a much greater chance of being killed by police than even an unarmed Black male. But that rarely gets mentioned in our media. I lived in a town just off the Warm Springs Reservation, Oregon, and the hatred of Indians there was very noticeable, even though most of the money for the town came either the Indians on the reservation, or from people visiting the reservation. So the hatred of Indians never ended.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Invasion Day

1 ( +4 / -3 )

I can’t think of a single event in human history that has had the same aftereffects as Columbus’s voyage to what became the Americas.

I think many US Americans probably blindly celebrate Columbus Day in the name of maintaining a tradition; just another example of keeping a tradition for the sake of tradition. Because it’s a man-made tradition though, it can and should be stopped if it’s celebrating European colonialism.

I don’t think Columbus as a human should be honoured in any way, but do think there’s great value in setting the day aside to consider the effects of invasions and colonizations and the damage done by cultural extremists looking to grab land and resources at the expense of another culture. And maybe more importantly at the expense of life in all its different forms.

1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus is an excellent book describing life in the new world prior to the European invasions.

3 ( +5 / -2 )

James Joyce said, "America celebrates Columbus Day because Columbus was the last to discover America."

6 ( +7 / -1 )

Columbus was a terrible, brutal person who does not deserve to be honored. I'm not sure what it should be renamed to, but certainly celebrating the man in charge of a methodical slaughter of millions of people is not the way to go.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GD3dgiDreGc

2 ( +6 / -4 )

It should most definitely be changed. Until recently I thought Columbus was just a guy who got way too much credit for "discovering" America, but I thought the myth was mostly harmless. Man was I wrong...

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-kasum/columbus-day-a-bad-idea_b_742708.html

The things he did make ISIS seem seem halfway decent. And in case you think he was just a man of his times, the article points out that he was actually arrested because his actions were considered barbaric even by their standards. But of course he was pardoned because he was making the crown too much money...

I don't see how anyone could celebrate this monster in good conscience after knowing all this.

1 ( +4 / -3 )

Why not dismantle your whole country, since it is founded on injustice? End it already. Like the old leftist slogan goes: Ho-ho-ho, Western Civ has got to go.

1 ( +5 / -4 )

No. Because the days when the Mayflower, Columbus' and Cortez' ships hit beach- it all started to go downhill for natives.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Columbus needs to be honored. If it weren't for him, the western world wouldn't exist as we know it. Those of you calling him a brute and a savage owe your existence as it currently is to him. You don't have the courage or wisdom or innovation to do what he did. With that being said, it needs to be recognized that the Europeans and native Americans were not buddy buddy, to say the least, and the whole premise behind the American thanksgiving and thinking behind Columbus Day is bogus. But you know what? Columbus and those after him did what they did-- simply because they could! The natives didn't have the weaponry or combat skills to stop the onslaught. The truth is any country is up for grabs and the onus is on the inhabitants to defend it. (Look at Putin and the Ukrain.) Why do you think countries today have militaries? The natives were at war among themselves and slaughtering and conquering each other. It's just that someone badder and stronger came along.

2 ( +6 / -4 )

Columbus needs to be honored.

At best, you could say he should be honored, not needs to be. If we stop honoring him tomorrow the world will not change a whit, therefore there is no necessity.

But with Columbus, we are honoring a slaver, a child sex slaver, and a man who perpetuated many brutalities, all for gold. Sure maybe that was the order of the day, but it's nothing we should be honoring now.

-3 ( +2 / -5 )

... a slaver, a child sex slaver... brutalities, all for gold...

Ah, yes... The basic ingredients for any great civilisation.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Are the Americans subject to the same recognition of conscience?

When Columbus arrived in the "New World" there wasn't an America (as we know it today). If any country is to be assigned guilt, it would be Europe (I know it is a continent) but countries like Spain, Portugal, England and others are the ones who started the enslavement of native peoples, and not the "Americans."

For those who say that European colonization was bad to native peoples, please do a little research. the concept of war and taking land from others was not just first brought to the Americas by Columbus. The Aztecs as wells as the Incas and other civilizations were doing that well before the arrival of Europeans.

So will the people who are of the local decent of the native tribes who got conquered by the Aztecs resent being branded as of Aztec, etc. We need to stop trying to be so PC and accept the fact that yes some heads were knocked about during the creation of the Americas (note, he didn't set up the USA but the start of European expansionism in the Americas) and get over it. You want to play the blame game, you need to direct it to Europe, notably Spain and not the USA.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

But with Columbus, we are honoring a slaver, a child sex slaver, and a man who perpetuated many brutalities, all for gold.

And all in the name of the Roman Catholic Church too . . . . let's not forget, the brutal Spainairds (conquistadors) enforced a convert or die approach to all Natives.

Same can be said of Philippine Natives when the Spainairds arrived. How many Filipinos are Catholic?

1 ( +2 / -1 )

MrBumOCT. 14, 2015 - 12:42PM JST It should most definitely be changed. Until recently I thought Columbus was just a guy who got way too much credit for "discovering" America, but I thought the myth was mostly harmless. Man was I wrong... http://www.huffingtonpost.com/eric-kasum/columbus-day-a-bad-idea_b_742708.html

What a garbage in that link, man that Kasum is an idiot. Human history is about competing for resources and that's just what the Europeans did. Are we suppose to apologize for being so advanced in every way over the natives that we were able to subjugate them in a short notice? What nonsense. I dare any of these bleeding heart liberals here to do what the Colombus did, sail into the unknown! Pizarro had 150 men, Cortés had 600 men and 15 horses yet they both were able to defeat forces thousand of times larger.

As for taking what the indians had, well if they were just a bit more technologically advanced they could have killed the Europeans before breakfast. This is exactly the kind of apologist nonsense that is swirling around the empty heads of the idiots, like Merkel, in Europe regarding the muslim onslaught of Europe. We suppose to just hold hands and sing the kumbaya. Colombus did what everybody else in those days. And indeed today. See US' foreign policy for recent examples, and count the number of dead in Vietnam, Iraq and Afghanistan. By the way genocide is not a European invention, check out what the Turks did with the Armanians or what they are doing to the Kurds, Pol Pot was no slouch either.

0 ( +4 / -4 )

Victimhood of the Month Club.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

@Mr. Noidall

The natives didn't have the weaponry or combat skills to stop the onslaught... The natives were at war among themselves and slaughtering and conquering each other.

The island natives Columbus "discovered" were much more peaceful than their cousins on the continent. Hence the complete lack of weaponry and combat skills. He marveled at their generosity, friendliness, and unfamiliarity with violence, and immediately proceeded to take advantage of them.

@Wc626

And all in the name of the Roman Catholic Church too . . . . let's not forget, the brutal Spainairds (conquistadors) enforced a convert or die approach to all Natives.

Not for Columbus. For him it was more about Gold, Gold, and more Gold. Very little converting occurred with his crew.

@MikeRowave

What a garbage in that link, man that Kasum is an idiot.

You might not like the site or the author, but it's based on firsthand journal entries and letters (that are linked). You have a problem with those sources?

Are we suppose to apologize for being so advanced in every way over the natives that we were able to subjugate them in a short notice? What nonsense.

How about at least acknowledge what we did to natives was cruel?

Pizarro had 150 men, Cortés had 600 men and 15 horses yet they both were able to defeat forces thousand of times larger. As for taking what the indians had, well if they were just a bit more technologically advanced they could have killed the Europeans before breakfast.

They slaughtered their virtually unarmed, unclothed hosts who did nothing but treat their guests like kings. In what world do you live where that's considered remotely heroic?

We can't do anything about how we got here as a society, but surely you agree that brutal invasions and genocide are things we want to move away from. Not celebrating exceptionally cruel a**holes with a national holiday would be a step toward instilling that notion. Same with acknowledging the brutal realities of our past and present.

5 ( +5 / -0 )

Columbus Day should be renamed for all Americans who have an ounce of pride in them. The guy was a total scum hole sadist. He destroyed, desecrated, dishonored and a whole list of other "D" words before I even begin to "discovered".

0 ( +2 / -2 )

If Columbus Day should be renamed, it's not because of Native Americans deserving a day in their honour, and they definitely do, it's because he was NOT AT ALL the first person to discover the Americas. The vikings had established small colonies on it LONG before Columbus found it by mistake. Regardless, since the day has been established for some time, I say keep it as it is. As for the Native Americans, give them another special day of recognition that seems appropriate.

0 ( +3 / -3 )

Columbus Day should be renamed for all Americans who have an ounce of pride in them. The guy was a total scum hole sadist. He destroyed, desecrated, dishonored and a whole list of other "D" words before I even begin to "discovered".

Are you talking about Columbus or today's U.S. military and its spreading of democracy? I can't tell. Could you please clarify.

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

@Mr.Noidal

If it weren't for him, the western world wouldn't exist as we know it. Those of you calling him a brute and a savage owe your existence as it currently is to him.

..not sure what you're on about here- America had already been discovered by several groups prior to Columbus and if it wasn't him, most certainly others would have come sooner or later as technology (specifically naval capability) was improving. It really was just a matter of time.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Now that we are on the outside looking in, we think about this. Most people in the U.S. probably couldn't give a rat's behind about a holiday's meaning as long as there is day off of work and school. You think people are having birthday parties for Lincoln, Washington and King?

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

Columbus Day is going to be around for quite awhile, get over it-If the U.S. would divert even 1/10th of the $$$ they spend on resettling refugees from the Mid-East ( many dubious cases there!)& giving help to the native AMERICANS would be a first step toward real aid. As for genocide open your history books to Cortez $ Pizzaro whose lust for gold sent them straight to hell!

-1 ( +1 / -2 )

If you want to honestly judge Columbus, or anyone, you must look at the norms for the age and location. No way he could have maintained being captain of a sailing ship if he was a cream-puff! The question is if he was unnecessary brutal. I don't know or care. As for the first Europeans who 'discovered' the Americas, the Vikings, they had reigned terror over most of Europe for centuries, and then after finding Vinland, and with stories of how wonderful it was, left for some unknown reason. I think the Native Americans gave the Vikings the boot! The reason for the 'success' of Columbus and his fellow Europeans was their deadly cargo of germs and secondary, steel for armor and cutting weapons. (Guns and horses were useless in pitch battles.) The Europeans also made treaties with some Native American tribes to help them against their enemies. Yes, the treaties were later broken.

I would be happy to see the holiday renamed to Native American Day.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

lllyas at least the people who were under Genghis Khan's rule was given a choice.

Hahaha you seriously wrote that? Do you have any idea how many towns were raped and pillaged by the Mongolian invaders? Genghis Khan makes Hitler and Stalin look mild in comparison.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Ralf StinsonOCT. 15, 2015 - 01:21AM JST

I would be happy to see the holiday renamed to Native American Day.

Just what did the native Americans do that would deserve giving them a special day? They were a bunch of nomads who lived off the land. I am not saying they deserved to be wiped out however there is nothing special about them. If anything they are rather backwards even today, they have zero intention to join the rest of the world in the modern age. They are trying to desperately hold on to their outdated and backward lifestyle and belief system. Human history is about progress, peoples that won't / can't adapt get left behind. So be it. Columbus did what he thought was the best in order to achieve his goals, one can't tame a lion with kind words.Great leaders used to be ruthless, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, the mongol Khans, etc.

-1 ( +0 / -1 )

@DaDude

You think people are having birthday parties for Lincoln, Washington and King?

No, but I can imagine a bored kid somewhere googling Columbus, and wondering why we honor such a monster. This isn't Hans Sprungfeld we're talking about here. Columbus was on a different level. I agree that most people don't notice or care, but knowing the truth, I don't think it's a good statement about the country.

@MikeRowave

Just what did the native Americans do that would deserve giving them a special day?

How about actually being the first to discover America??? We also nearly wiped out their entire race and stole pretty much all their land, and you can't even give them a single holiday?

They were a bunch of nomads who lived off the land.

I know, what losers right?

If anything they are rather backwards even today, they have zero intention to join the rest of the world in the modern age. They are trying to desperately hold on to their outdated and backward lifestyle and belief system.

Again, look at what's been done to their culture and people. God forbid they try to preserve what little they have left.

Columbus did what he thought was the best in order to achieve his goals, one can't tame a lion with kind words.

He didn't tame lions. He raped, mutilated, and slaughtered sheep and fed them to his dogs. And for what grand purpose? Gold. You know who else did what he thought was the best in order to achieve his "goals"? Hitler. Yes, the Hitler card, but I can't think of a more appropriate situation to use it.

Great leaders used to be ruthless, Alexander the Great, Attila the Hun, the mongol Khans, etc.

Yeah, especially when you reach as far back in history as you do. But like you said, human history is about progress. There's plenty of great leaders, adventurers, thinkers, and peoples we could celebrate who weren't unnecessarily cruel in achieving their goals.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

@MicroWeave Human history is about progress, peoples that won't / can't adapt get left behind

That's probably true but makes me wonder why so many posters on this site use the word 'progressive' as a pejorative. I have to assume that those who curse progressives are those who want to return to a mythical past (that probably never was) rather than adapt, as you say and face current realities.

Those who believe so strongly in their culture's historical fictions are typically cultural extremists, to me the most frightening on the planet. You mentioned Pol Pot, a good example of a cultural extremist who wanted to force a mythical past on his people.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

Illyas,

I agree with you entirely. That Columbus was an asshat and that his men were brutal isn't in dispute. That subsequent European colonizers took violent and amoral advantage of native populations is also not in dispute.

However, the ravages of disease (smallpox, mainly) that killed the vast majority (90%) of the native North American population were not introduced knowingly by colonizers in 1492.

Heck, the first rudimentary understandings of germs and modern epidemiology didn't even appear until the mid-16th century.

So it stands very well to reason that there is no way Columbus or any of his contemporaries had an inkling that their arrival on the North American continent would have such a catastrophic effect on the native populations' unprepared immune systems. No way at all.

The very definition of "genocide" is the intentional, targeted extermination of a group pf people. Just showing up and unwittingly unleashing a smallpox pandemic most certainly does not qualify under this definition, no matter how much one dresses the idea up.

0 ( +1 / -1 )

Wait a minute... There are people who celebrate Columbus Day? I grew up in a rural, Midwestern, bible-belty conservative town and even we learned about the horrible impact of his (non)discovery of North America had on the native populations. Mainly Columbus Day was just a lovely day off of school to sleep in, eat spaghetti o's and watch the Price is Right. You could have called it Toothpaste Appreciation Day and it would have had the same impact. shrug

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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