HONOLULU (KHON2) — If you were to ask any Native American in the United States what they think of Columbus Day, you’ll probably get silence in response.
Columbus Day was first created by President Henry Harrison in 1892. It was in response to the anti-Italian motivated lynching of 11 Italian Americans in New Orleans in 1891. At that time in the Southern states of the U.S., Italians, Blacks and Native Americans were lynched by white people on a fairly regular basis, particularly during and after the Reconstruction years.
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Columbus Day was originally celebrated on the actual day and month of Columbus’s first landing in what is now known as The Bahamas which was Oct. 12, 1492. The first parade that took place was in 1929. It was organized by the Italian-American Society and the Knights of Columbus in New York City.
Thankfully, in the last few decades, people have begun to realize what kinds of atrocities were done to the indigenous peoples of the “New World” by Columbus and the ensuing colonizers that followed.
Celebrating Columbus Day as it was originally intended overlooks the systemic violence and racism perpetrated against Indigenous peoples for nearly 500 years.
One of the best lectures on the consequences of Columbus’s actions is actually a comedy set performed by John Leguizamo titled Latin American History for Morons on Netflix. You will laugh and cry and learn so much that your teachers never told you in school.
Now that people are becoming more aware of the price Native American peoples were forced to pay so that colonizers could make more money, there is a movement to change Columbus Day to Native American Day.
In 2014, Seattle, Washington officially changed the date to Native American Day. Regretfully, as of 2022, the United States White House continued to celebrate Columbus Day with no mention of the total destruction that indigenous peoples experienced.
Now that you know a bit about the controversy, let’s take a look at what Columbus did when he first encountered the Taino peoples.
The Taino people lived across what is now known as the Caribbean. All the islands in that region were a vast network of trade and relationships. It is estimated that in “The Bahamas” there were over a million Taino people living on the islands when Columbus arrived.
By 1514, there were very few Taino left since they’d died, been murdered or were enslaved and shipped off for a profit.
“Very few Indians were left after 50 years. Their culture was interrupted by disease, marriage with Spanish and Africans, and so forth, but the main reason the Indians were exterminated as a group was sickness. By 1519, a third of the aboriginal population had died because of smallpox. You find documents very soon after that, in the 1530s, in which the question came from Spain to the governor. ‘How many Indians are there? Who are the chiefs?’ The answer was none. They are gone. Some remained probably … but it was not that many.”— an account of the state of the indigenous peoples by Ricardo Alegría, a Puerto Rican historian and anthropologist
The only remnants of Taino DNA that remains exists in Mvskoke (Creek), Seminole and Tsalagi (Cherokee) tribes and some people groups in Puerto Rico.
While Columbus was Italian, he was sailing for Spain’s royal couple, Isabella and Ferdinand, who profited greatly from the destruction of the indigenous peoples’ homes and families.
There is actually a great deal of controversy over whether Columbus raped and murdered his way through the islands. Indigenous peoples say he did while colonizers absolutely deny it.
This quote from a letter written by Columbus does shed a bit of light on what he was doing.
“A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls; those from nine to ten are now in demand.”— Christopher Columbus, circa 1500
He was a known sex trafficker of children, women and men. To this day, the legacy of Columbus is fought against in the Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women‘s movement.
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Since history is written by the victors — and in this case the victors were the colonizers — we have Columbus Day as a national holiday. But with greater awareness and more education, we can turn that corner and begin to open our eyes to the consequences that continue to plague humanity.