For the past 80 years, since Columbus Day became a federal holiday, we have celebrated an explorer who engaged in enslavement, outright theft and the genocide of this hemisphere's indigenous people.
In 1492, the Spanish sailor Christopher Columbus embarked on what he believed would be a journey to riches in India. Landing on the shores of the Americas, Columbus did not think twice about those he believed were an inferior people who should be used as slaves, guides and even dog food in order to fuel his crew's ongoing exploits. Consider these words from Columbus himself: "These people are very unskilled in arms. ... With 50 men they could all be subjected and made to do all that one wished."
Doing as he wished, Columbus and his crew brought disease, stole precious resources and ultimately wiped out many indigenous island tribes, all in the name of claiming this side of the globe as the New World.
Columbus' violent ventures were only the beginning of long-lasting conquests of American Indians and the indigenous people of Central and South America. And yet many Americans gladly attend parades throughout this country's cities, wrongly praising the man despite his truly wicked deeds.
Perhaps we do not have much to celebrate in this divided country other than sports figures and those who have bravely helped survivors of natural disasters and deadly attacks. But continuing to honor a man who brought such misery to American Indians only serves to hide the truth about how this country was formed.
On Columbus Day, this year on Oct. 9, it is important to remember this nation's history of stealing Indian land and forcing native people onto reservations. In fact, the propensity for dehumanizing native people is ongoing. From proudly degrading Indians as savage sports mascots to exploiting Indian land for oil and other natural resources, you cannot convince me that the spirit of Christopher Columbus is no longer with us.
In recent years, there have been calls to unmask the false celebrity of Columbus. Indeed, some cities have denounced the holiday in favor of celebrating the contributions and sacrifices of indigenous people. Many tribal Indian governments remain open on Columbus Day as a form of protest.
But in all honesty, I am not totally sure how we should deal with the memory of Columbus. I believe we should remember the horrific truth about the man and his contributions to opening the doors to colonization. But I also believe we need to embrace the full truth about the terrible price my ancestors paid for the discovery of this New World.
This country remains in deep denial about its origins. I constantly hear from non-natives that we Indians need to just get over the past. My only reply is we are willing to move on but only after we as a unified people recognize the history of violence that was forced upon us.
It should not be threatening to our identity and future as Americans to stop the glorification of Christopher Columbus. We understand that we cannot undo the past. But neither can we continue to embrace fairy facades such as those about the exploiter who "sailed the ocean blue in 1492."
About The Writer
Mark Anthony Rolo is an enrolled member of the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians and author of the memoir "My Mother Is Now Earth." He wrote this for Progressive Media Project, a source of liberal commentary on domestic and international issues; it is affiliated with The Progressive magazine. Readers may write to the author at: Progressive Media Project, 30 W. Mifflin St., suite 703, Madison, Wis. 53703; email: email@example.com; Web site: www.progressive.org. For information on PMP's funding, please visit http://www.progressive.org/pmpabout.html#anchorsupport.
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