1. Columbus never landed in the U.S.
Christopher Columbus actually anchored in the Bahamas. If we wanted to celebrate explorers who actually set foot in the United States, we would have to honor people like Juan Ponce de Leon (arrived in Florida in 1513), Alonso Alvarez de Pineda (arrived in Texas in 1519) or even fellow Italian Giovanni da Verrazzano (arrived in New York Harbor in 1524).
2. It can be argued that Columbus set the foundation for slavery in the Americas.
The Oatmeal released a comic that cleverly illustrated the real history of Columbus’ time in the New World. Using information gathered from primary sources (diaries and letters written by Columbus and others present at the time), the comic describes how Columbus forced natives to work in gold mines until exhaustion and beheaded those that opposed. He sold natives as sex slaves to his men, some as young as nine years old. He killed natives in contests and sports, and later used their bodies as dog food. Some estimates say that around 250,000 natives in modern-day Haiti were killed during Columbus’ rule. In many ways, this set an example for how natives and slaves were eventually treated. The comic also argues that since Columbus’ gold exports killed the gold economy in Africa and sparked the rise in trading Africans slaves in that region, he could be called the father of the Transatlantic Slave Trade.
3. Other explorers from Columbus’ time were far more honorable. If anything, we should be celebrating them.
If we must celebrate any leader associated with that time period, it should be one that actually demonstrated qualities of leadership, like introspection and the courage to admit your actions were wrong. Fellow explorer Bartolomé de las Casas embodied those ethics. He began participating in the slave trade like Columbus, but later repented and spent the rest of his life advocating for indigenous rights. That seems like a far more valuable story to commemorate. As the Oatmeal comic wrote “Christopher Columbus left his home and found a new world. Bartolome De Las Casas left his home and found his humanity.” It’d make far more sense to honor that.
4. With the state of our Native American population today, glorifying Columbus seems even more inappropriate.
Native Americans make up less than 1% of college students across the country. They also experience the highest rates of sexual assault and violence among any demographic: according to the US Department of Justice, one in three Native American women will raped in her lifetime. On some reservations, Native American murder rates are also ten times higher than the national average. And though the issue of police brutality has centered mostly around the country’s black population, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Center for Health Statistics found that police kill Native Americans at a higher rate than any other ethnic group.
5. Instead, we could use the holiday to educate others about indigenous history.
Columbus Day would be an ideal day to teach others about the difficulties the Native American population faces and how our historical context has influenced them. Several states and organizations have already began this work: In Montana, the Indian Education For All project has provided culturally relevant instruction for public school students since 1999. Other organizations like EDSITEment, The New York Times,teachinghistory.org, and the South Dakota Office of Indian Education all offer resources that provide a more accurate portrayal of Columbus and his legacy.
6. Or, we can follow the example of states and countries across the Americas and redefine the holiday, or get rid of it entirely.
In 2013, the City of Minneapolis voted to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on the same day as Columbus Day. Seattle joined in 2014. Red Wing Minnesota voted to rename Columbus Day “Chief Red Wing Day” after the indigenous leader that gave the city its name. Last June, California named the fourth Friday of September Native American Day and made it an official state, unpaid holiday. South Dakota has also celebrated an official Native American Day over Columbus Day since 1990. Nevada, Oregon, Hawaii, and Alaska don’t recognize Columbus Day at all.
Many Latin American countries have also chosen to rename the holiday. Nicaragua and Venezuela changed the day to Día de la Resistencia Indigena (The Day of Indigenous Resistance). In Chile: El Día del Encuentro de dos Mundos (The Day of the Encounter Between Two Worlds). In Argentina: Día del Respecto a la Diversidad Cultural (Day of Respect for Cultural Diversity). As writer Jessica Carro said, “Though different countries use different names for the holiday, the idea is the same. It is the celebration of the resistance against the arrival of Europeans in the Americas and at the same time the birth of a new identity, product of the encounter and fusion of the indigenous people of the land and the Spanish colonizers.”