Columbus never made it to America, but cities like Baltimore, Maryland, have statues honoring his voyage. (Flickr / Brent Moore / used with a Creative Commons License CC-BY-NC 2.0)
National Holidays have always played a significant role in a nation’s history and existence. Independence Day, Memorial Day and Martin Luther King Jr Day are just a few examples of events and individuals who helped shape and mold the country we live in today.
Our federal government, the banking industry and educational institutions all recognize these days as national holidays and therefore halt schools from teaching, banks from banking and government buildings from operating in a day of remembrance and recognition.
This year proved to be different though as nine cities across the United States decided to do away with Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous People Day.
Indigenous Peoples Day focuses on giving recognition to the various indigenous cultures that were present in the Americas and Caribbean Islands prior to the arrival of Christopher Columbus.
The aim of Indigenous Peoples Day is to provide a bit of truth to the myth that Columbus was a benevolent explorer who after sailing across the vast Atlantic Ocean discovered the Americas.
While Columbus did in fact sail across the Atlantic, which was no easy task, he wasn’t the first to discover the America’s and never actually set foot in North America.
It’s also worth noting he was an incredibly harsh and violent captain who was obsessed with finding gold and enslaving Indians and would kill at any cost. This is worth highlighting rather than the narrative that is generally taught in schools which describes him as a brave sailor who set out to reach Asia and the emerging markets in China.
The truth about Columbus’s voyage is that it took him to Central America and the Caribbean Islands, not Asia or North America.
The Caribbean island known as Hispaniola was where he first landed and where he forcibly separated tribes and families and enslaved both male and female Arawaks in his quest for gold.
This was the first taste of colonialism and European expansionism that native Americans and Arawak’s would experience from European explorers, although as our own countries history has proven, there was much more exploration to come.
It’s easily understandable why multiple cities across the country felt the need to rename this deceiving national holiday, but it’s not so easy to understand why we began celebrating Columbus in the first place.
While Columbus Day has been celebrated for hundreds of years, it wasn’t until 1937 that President Franklin D. Roosevelt declared Oct. 12 to be a national holiday. This was thanks to persistent lobbying efforts by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic benefits organization.
Whether there are groups of people like the Knights of Columbus who feel the need to commemorate Columbus’s voyage and celebrate his life, the truth to history shows that his voyage is not worth celebrating, at least not to the United States government on a national level.
His voyage was quite meaningless to the development or history of the United States and declaring his day Indigenous Peoples Day is the first step in the right direction to seeing history for what it is.