An Alternative View: Hurrah for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

October 28, 2019

The Rev. Bro. Robert Barker is a retired clergyperson with BSc and MDiv degrees.

14 October was Columbus Day.  Increasingly people are realizing that Columbus does not really deserve this honor accorded him. Nine states, unfortunately Michigan is not one yet, now officially recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on 14 October along with 53 cities, including five from Michigan: Ypsilanti, E. Lansing, Alpena, Traverse City, and Ann Arbor. 

When I was in elementary school we were taught the poem that begins: “In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” This poem included some truths about Columbus and his journey to the Americas but also omitted other not so convenient truths. Truths that the white conservative elite at the time sought to keep out of the history books and away from impressionable primary and secondary school students.  We were taught a whitewashed history about Columbus, a white racist, opportunist sailor, inhumane  despot, and slaver.  

 As we know from history Columbus thought that by sailing southwest he would arrive at India and China with its riches and wealth.  He was unaware there were two continents that lie between Europe and Asia.  He believed to his dying day that he had reached islands on the coast of Asia, which is why he called the natives “Indians”, although other world navigators knew otherwise.

In school we were led to believe that Columbus discovered North American. This falsity came about because North American colonialists, who were fighting with England, were reluctant to acknowledge Englishman John Cabot who had stumbled upon Newfoundland in 1497 leading to the eventual colonization of North America.  Instead of Cabot the Founders of the United States adopted Columbus as their hero, naming their capital after him.

 Columbus never landed in North America.  He landed in the islands of the Bahamas and eventually the coast of South America.  Icelander Leif Erikson, around the year 1000 C.E. (Common Era), was the first known European to set foot on North America 500 years before Columbus. And millennia before him the indigenous people of the Americas had already discovered and inhabited the western continents.
Columbus does not merit the honor bestowed upon him.   As viceroy over the Caribbean islands he and his men carried out cruel atrocities against the indigenous people and set a precedent eventually leading to the genocide of indigenous people across the Western Hemisphere. And the motive for these atrocities was greed for gold and annexation of indigenous land. 

Because of the minuscule gold ornaments that adorned the natives of the first Bahamian island upon which Columbus landed he believed he had struck it rich for his Spanish patrons for whom he had promised the wealth of the East.   As a result he enslaved many of the indigenous peoples where he forced them, with great cruelty, to look for gold in Cuba, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. This set the pattern for further such Spanish atrocities in Central and South America and eventually the European white man’s mass genocide of the indigenous people of the Western Hemisphere.

Hereafter, if you do not already, resolve to observe 14 October as Indigenous Peoples› Day.

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