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  • Writer's pictureVariant Magazine

Why Indigenous Peoples’ Day Should Replace Columbus Day


Last year, the D.C. Council voted to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, sparking the same change in many other places across the country. Although the change was temporary, NPR reported that the council hoped to make the switch permanent. As Columbus Day approaches this year (Oct. 12), it is important to recognize the problematic history of the national holiday which celebrates the explorer.

For children growing up in America, it was almost a right of passage in history classes to learn the catchy jingle “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue” when learning about the country’s origin. As children, we learned that Christopher Columbus founded and is responsible for populating America. This is blatantly untrue.

According to research conducted by The Atlantic, indigenous people occupied American lands for at least 20,000 years prior to Columbus’s arrival. Though these groups did not originate in this area, they were the first to travel to and occupy it, thus establishing their own rich cultures and languages prior to colonization.

The Atlantic also reports that in 1492, the Spanish did not travel to the New World with women, and instead populated the area by raping the Taíno women (a people spread across chiefdoms around the Caribbean and Florida), which resulted in the first generation of “mestizo,” or mixed ancestry people. Clearly, this information is left out of American elementary school textbooks.

What else is left out of these textbooks is the fact that Columbus and his men are responsible for incredibly high counts of mass genocide, kidnapping and slavery. As studied and reported by The Washington Post, when Columbus and his men landed on the Lucayans’ land (now known as the Bahamas), he wrote, “With 50 men they can all be subjugated and made to do what is required of them.”

This is referring to the Lucayan tribe as lesser than the Spanish explorers and is morally unjust, no?

The Spanish crew then kidnapped the Lucayans and traveled to Hispaniola (now Haiti and the Dominican Republic) where they met the Taíno tribe. As reported by The Washington Post, Columbus built a fort, killed two people, took some hostages and returned to Spain. The Taíno began to die when the temperature started to drop.

Illustrations by Macey Elder

The injustice did not stop there. When Columbus returned to Hispaniola a year later, he found that all of his men that he had left there had been killed, “after they had roamed the island in gangs looking for gold, taking women and children as slaves for sex and labor,” according to American historian Howard Zinn.

After searching for and failing to find gold, Columbus and his men took 500 Taíno back to Spain with the intent of selling them instead. 200 of those people died on the trip and many more followed suit after being sold into slavery.

These horrific acts are just the beginning of Columbus’s legacy, more of which can be read about here.

As more and more people begin to be educated on the realities of the colonization of America, it is no wonder the demand for the reversal of Columbus Day continues to grow. With the vote from the D.C. Council, the District of Columbus joined at least five states and dozens of cities in implementing the holiday of Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead.

Baley Champagne, the mind behind this change in her home state of Louisiana, told NPR that this change is “about celebrating people instead of thinking about somebody who actually caused genocide on a population or tried to cause the genocide of an entire population. By bringing Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we’re bringing awareness that we’re not going to allow someone like that to be glorified into a hero, because of the hurt that he caused to Indigenous people of America.”

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