Deceptive. Greedy. Murderer. Racist. Not exactly characteristics of a hero, and certainly not the makings of a man worthy of a national holiday.
Jig’s up, America. Christopher Columbus was a genocidal madman. America’s first and original terrorist. And as our global consciousness and awareness of humanity expands, it is time we give up defending Christopher Columbus as anything but otherwise.
Indigenous people have been protesting the Columbus Day holiday for decades. And for some, efforts have successfully resulted in change.
In 2014, the cities of Seattle and Minneapolis successfully abolished Columbus Day, replacing it with Indigenous Peoples Day. And recently, eight more cities have successfully made the change, too: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Lawrence, Kansas; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; Bexar County, Texas; Anadarko, Okalahoma; Olympia, Washington; and Alpena, Michigan.
Yet it was actually decades earlier, in 1990, that the State of South Dakota made the first waves, declaring the second Monday in October, as Native American Day. South Dakota is currently the only state to have eliminated Columbus Day.
Make no mistake, though, the state of South Dakota didn’t exactly rush to the decision on their own accord, but instead state officials were prodded and nudged by the original Lakota Times newspaper. Yes. The power of Native journalism, and indigenous activism.
If you want something done, and done right, be prepared to get your hands dirty and do it yourself. Indigenous peoples and conscious allies, this is how we have and will get things done.
Nearly two decades ago, I participated in my first Columbus Day demonstration. It all went down during my sophomore year at Arizona State University, when a handful of Native American students organized a demonstration outside of the student union. Informative flyers, signs, and engaging conversations jolted by passers to consider who and what exactly they were celebrating. I can vividly remember one sign that read, “In 1492, Columbus murdered indigenous people.”
There were a handful of verbal confrontations and heated exchanges, and as a result, our provocative demonstration made the front page of the student newspaper. Success. We stirred the campus to think. This is where it all starts. Stirring conversation, raising consciousness, and telling the truth, courageously.
It is no surprise that many Native college co-eds are taking to similar efforts, and actually taking it up a notch. Students at Haskell Indian Nations University took their plight off the college campus and to the city of Lawrence, Kansas. They won. (Haskell students, Native students, you, rock. Don’t stop telling the truth. You are powerful, brilliant, and capable of even more.)
For Native people, Columbus was never a hero. Sure, he opened up exploration into the Americas by stumbling upon our pristine and abundant homelands. But what has been so conveniently white washed, is the manner in which he achieved this. In fact, the way that he achieved this laid the groundwork for the next 500 years of subsequent American conquest, theft, terrorism, and indigenous holocaust. The overwhelming societal ills rampant among tribal communities today are a sure testament to our ongoing struggle to heal from centuries of historical trauma. We are still healing.
It all started in 1492, when Christopher Columbus stumbled upon the shores of Taino homelands, present-day Caribbean Islands. The Taino people welcomed Columbus and his men ashore, and in true indigenous compassion, they helped Columbus and his men to unload cargo, and they even offered gifts. Little did they know, Columbus was already plotting his foul deception of the unsuspecting Taino.
By the end of Columbus’s second voyage back to America, the friendly Taino were enslaved, brutalized, tortured, killed, raped, and almost completely annihilated on the island of Hispaniola, all in the name of imperialism. All in the name of gold, glory, and god.
Columbus had an insatiable hunger for gold, and he stopped at nothing to get it. If the daily quota of gold was not met by the enslaved Taino, hands were chopped off by Columbus and his men, sometimes left dangling by threads of skin. Taino babies were forcibly left on road sides to perish while their enslaved mothers carried heavy burdens. Other babies were fed to war dogs, and some had their heads crushed over rocks. Bets were made among Spanish conquistadors to see who could chop in half the body of a Taino in one single blow. Taino chiefs were coaxed into huts to meet with Spanish lords, only to be locked in and burned alive. Thirteen Taino were hanged and then burned alive in the name of Jesus and the Twelve Apostles. In complete and utter terror, many Taino commit suicide to escape the torture of Columbus and his men, jumping off cliffs, or hanging themselves from trees.
Complete and utter terror. Of course, all of that was conveniently omitted from history books.
Let’s face it, the first American terrorist was Christopher Columbus. And as indigenous people and social justice activists across the nation courageously speak the truth about history, the rest of America is bound to learn this glaring truth, too. It is only a matter of time.
There are two men whose names mark a national holiday, the late and immensely great, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., and ... Christopher Columbus. I’m incredibly perturbed, and, offended actually, just having to type those names on the same line.
Yet, it is only a matter of time for the demise of Columbus Day. You cannot stop a trajectory of consciousness. And, as indigenous activists of America, we won’t stop. We are resilient, and the growing population of Native youth, immensely brilliant. The truth is being unveiled, one state, and one city at a time. Can you feel it? That is the feeling of consciousness. Truth. The next question is: which state or city will be next?
Sarah Sunshine Manning
Sarah Sunshine Manning (Shoshone-Paiute, Chippewa-Cree) is a mother, educator, activist, and an advocate for youth. Follow her at @SarahSunshineM.