On Columbus Day

In 1001 AD, a man named Leif Ericsson started trading with indigenous peoples in North America. 500 years later a different guy showed up on the same continent, thought he was somewhere else, claimed to have discovered all the people already living there, and then began raping and killing his way into our history books. 

I’ve always hated Columbus Day. First because I thought it should have been Leif Ericsson Day and I like the name Leif (I was an easily-pleased child). Later, because I didn’t like watching my Native classmates and students have to “celebrate” a man who earned fame and notoriety by raping and killing a huge percentage of their ancestors. That’d be like my family having to celebrate James II of England’s birthday every year. Only it wouldn’t be, because my family doesn’t actually still live in Ireland. And James II wasn’t that bad all by himself. And because– alright, so that wasn’t a really great example.

I honestly don’t have any a way of imparting how messed up Columbus Day is. Every year, we celebrate someone whose compatriots were able to write this in their diaries:

“While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral (Read: Columbus) gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.”

And every year the Native American children in our classrooms have to hear about his accomplishments, even though the thing he’s most “famous” for isn’t even something he accomplished.  That bothers me.

Other people are apparently figuring this out, too, and are starting to change “Columbus Day” to “Indigenous Peoples Day” in various towns around the country. Maybe yours is, too. If so– then go out and support that. If not– well, maybe it just hasn’t been brought up in your town council, yet. You could be the one to start that change. 🙂


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