Augustana Observer

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Augustana Observer

Reclaiming a stolen holiday

Learning that Christopher Columbus was not in fact an American hero was a bit like learning that Santa isn’t real- without the loss of childhood innocence. My whole life I was told the story of a brave man discovering America, making “buddy buddy” with the Native Americans, and, dare I say, making America great. Together Christopher and the Native Americans perfected agriculture, hunting, and building a new civilization.
In reality, our good friend Christopher perfected raping, pillaging, and genocide.
When Columbus set foot on the “New World,” he set up a tribute system. In this tribute system, Native Americans were obligated to bring Columbus gold. If they did so, they received a token to wear around their necks that acted as a sort of “get out of jail free” card for a few months. The price for a Native American who didn’t hand over their gold? A hand. Literally. Columbus and his men would cut off the hands of Americans who did not comply with his tribute system.
If that wasn’t enough, Columbus brought over diseases that the Native American’s immune systems were previously unexposed to, thus wiping out chunks of the population with smallpox and similar illnesses. In addition, the sudden influx of forced labor caused a mass imbalance in the ecology and the workforce of native people. It’s estimated that in the course of fifty years post-Columbus, somewhere between 3-5 million Native Americans died.
Columbus was also known for rewarding his lieutenants with sex slaves- particularly young girls whom he forced into sex slavery. In a letter to a friend (the guy was popular somewhere) written during the 1500s, he remarked how girls between the ages of nine and ten can be used for currency.
Columbus’ gold exports resulted in the paralysis of the African Gold Coast economy. This led to a rise in African slaves as a commodity in that area, inadvertently making our boy Christopher the inventor of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
So yes, much like Martin Luther King Jr. and Abraham Lincoln, we celebrate Christopher Columbus with a federal holiday.
If you think to yourself “but Christopher Columbus Day is an American Holiday!’, think again. The holiday wasn’t established until 1937 when a male-only Catholic organization known as the Knights of Columbus decided that there weren’t enough straight, white men for their children to look up to, so they pressured President Roosevelt into making it a holiday.
History (especially American history) is shadowed in atrocities and abhorable people, so I’d like to shed a bit of light into the future. According to CNN reporters Marilia Brocchetto and Emanuella Grinberg, since 2015, fourteen communities have passed measures designating the second October of each year to Indigenous Peoples’ Day.
Most recently, Denver, Colorado and Phoenix, Arizona, and the entire state of Vermont have joined the efforts to shift the consciousness from glorifying a genocidal maniac to acknowledging that indigenous peoples and their voices are imperative to today’s conversations.
The movement is part of a larger attempt to clarify Columbus’ role in history and connect it to indigenous identity and culture in a broader sense. Indigenous Peoples’ Day reimagines Columbus Day as a day to recognize the inherent issues with colonialism and imperialism, whilst giving people an opportunity to reveal historical truths about the genocide and systematic oppression of native Americans.
Although Indigenous Peoples’ Day will not necessarily “replace” Columbus day, as it won’t be a federal holiday or give you a day off, it will contribute to recognizing the blood on America’s hands and bringing indigenous voices to the table.

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Reclaiming a stolen holiday