In 1492, Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue. He discovered the Americas and sang “kumbaya” with the Natives.
Most students have been told this remixed version of our nation’s history. This fable paints Columbus as a hero and triumphant adventurer. Nonetheless, despite the catchy rhyme and stories as old as time, Columbus gives us no reason to celebrate.
For starters, the Spaniard never “discovered” the Americas. Indigenous peoples had been living and thriving here for thousands of years. In opposition to the colonizer’s views, Native communities were far from savage. Empires such as the Aztecs, Mayans, and Incas, cultivated crops, riches, and wide ranges of art. They all had very rich and different cultures. Sadly, most of the traditions and cultures were lost because of European colonization.
Furthermore, culture was not the only thing lost due to this conquistador. Millions of indigenous lives were lost in the building of the United States. Columbus committed genocide against the indigenous and prompted the Slave Trade. He and his band of colonizers brought over a plethora of diseases, such as smallpox. These illnesses wiped out millions of indigenous people, eliminating up to 95 percent of their populations, PBS estimates. On top of this biological warfare, Columbus tortured and murdered Natives for land, forced them to assimilate, and converted them to Christianity against their own beliefs, as reported by the Smithsonian.
To this day the effects of colonization are still felt. Indigenous women are the largest demographic to be missing or murdered. The Center for Public Integrity states that indigenous women are 10 times more likely than any other group to face either rape, murder, or violence in their lifetimes. Native children were forced to attend “boarding schools” that not only stripped them of the heritage, but also had a history of murder. Recently, on these Canadian school grounds, hundreds of young Native bodies have been discovered. Since these schools’ creation, abuse has been reported with over 150,000 indigenous children in forced attendance. In May of 2021, 215 children were uncovered on school grounds. The youngest child discovered was 3 years old, reported the Guardian and Buzzfeed News.
Furthermore, territory treaties have been violated by the U.S. government countless times. The oil line currently being installed as this article is being written, Line Three, is the perfect example. According to Stopline3.org, this oil line flows through Native land reservations and threatens their ways of life. An oil spill could destroy their biodiversity, including the crops they support and feed themselves with.
Even without government infringements on Native allotted land, reservation conditions are deplorable. Indigenous families are given government food, lacking in nourishment and full of preservatives. Reservations are often food deserts, places where fresh produce and food are inaccessible, not to mention expensive. In response, many indigenous tribes have called for state sovereignty- the ability to do what they please without government influence. These tribes want to reclaim their land and call for action to find Missing and Murdered Native women.
By celebrating Columbus day, our nation is actively ignoring the past Native genocide and current racism facing indegionous groups. It is up to non-Natives to start addressing our country’s horrific past. Changing national holidays and offensive sport’s mascots, such as the NFL’s Redskins, will not solve all the problems surrounding our Native population. These actions are still the first step in reckoning with the crimes committed against Indegionous peoples of the Americas.