Indigenous Peoples’ Day considers those who perished

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In December of 1492, Columbus did indeed sail the ocean blue, bringing along with him a line of three grand ships whose names and likeness have been ingrained in the heads of every young American for generations. The native of the independent state of Genoa was looking to profit off the lucrative spice trade by routing a western passage by sea to the East Indies.  

With the flair of gold in his eyes and desire to crusade his passion for Christianity, Columbus committed a series of unspeakable atrocities against the Native Americans he encountered when he landed in the Americas. Columbus wrote in his diary in the beginning of his tirade; “With fifty men I could subjugate them all and make them do everything that is required of them.” This ultimately shuts down the argument that Columbus was unintentional in his acts. So why is this important?  Why now, 527 years later, has the holiday celebrating Columbus’s arrival in the Americas become such a political issue?  

States around the country are changing the name of Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. People that oppose this argue that the accomplishments of the man who “discovered America” are being wiped from history. Italian-Americans dread the erasure of their ancestral hero; however, they neglect the brutal history that they fear will be destroyed.

There was no animosity from the indigenous people, so why did Columbus begin a long conquest of brutality and genocide that would eventually have him lose the favor of the Catholic Monarchs and the people of Spain?

When Columbus landed in modern-day Haiti and encountered the Arawak Native Americans, the indigenous people were friendly towards Columbus and his men. He even wrote in his journal, “As I saw that they were very friendly to us, and perceived that they could be much more easily converted to our holy faith by gentle means than by force… they were much delighted, and became wonderfully attached to us.”

Bartoleme de las Casas, a Spanish friar who joined the conquest, was a vital source for documenting the atrocities helmed by Columbus and the colonists in his book, “History of the Indies.” In one particularly brutal paragraph, he writes, “[The Spaniards] thought nothing of knifing [American] Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades…two of these so-called Christians met two Indian boys one day, each carrying a parrot; they took the parrots and for fun beheaded the boys.” Casas was fully devoted to his Catholicism, yet an advocate for the indigenous people in the new world.

Several state and local governments have taken a stand against a holiday that celebrates the bloodshed of so many Native American tribes, whether people realize it or not, and elected to rename the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.”  Washington D.C. will observe the holiday under its new name this year for the first time along with ten other states including Michigan, Oklahoma and Maine, according to AP News. 

We should take time on the second Monday of October to remember and mourn the loss and suffering of the people who called the Americas their home, rather than celebrate the man who enslaved and overlooked their murders.

Even still, Columbus should not be wiped from history. Rather, we should be informed about the pain and suffering he caused as he achieved his accomplishments.

Pro-Columbus Day arguments also feature the inclusion of the pride of Italian-Americans.  A statue of Columbus stands within Boston’s own North End. There are numerous tributes and memorials to Columbus constructed by immigrants who took the same journey that Columbus did. Many of these people that came to America looking for a better life were scrutinized, prejudiced and stereotyped. They were even lynched in certain cases in history, such as the 1891 New Orleans lynchings where 11 Italian-Americans were murdered by a mob.

So why do Italian-Americans support a man who committed hate-crimes similar to the ones that were committed against them? Columbus saw Native Americans as items of trade and tools to his own end. A celebration of his holiday is a celebration of Western Civilization and the biased thought process that only the white colonists can develop the world and technology.  

I encourage all supporters of Columbus Day, in order to quench your desire to preserve the atrocities of history, to read the writings of the people that accompanied Columbus on his journey and his own writings to fully understand the horrific acts of violence and dehumanization that were committed by his order and influence, and to have a happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day!

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