It Is Time to Take Another Look at Columbus Day

Matthew Wagner, Staff Reporter

In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue; he had three ships and left from Spain; he sailed through sunshine, wind and rain. Every year, our country celebrates this fairy tale. But as we know, fairy tales are often written to disguise a sinister truth. In reality, Columbus was a man who decimated upwards of 80% of the population on Hispaniola and other islands in the Greater Antilles. He tortured Natives and introduced deadly diseases. Not only did he massacre Indigenous Peoples, but his reckless actions and abhorrent decision-making also set the tone for the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Columbus Day no longer has a place in the United States and should be replaced with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. 

Columbus Day was first celebrated in New York’s Tammany Hall in 1792. It became ingrained in Italian and Catholic culture because Columbus was a Catholic from Genoa, Italy. Every October, following the first ceremony in Tammany Hall, people have held parades in Columbus’ honor. In 1892, President Benjamin Harrison issued a proclamation encouraging Americans to celebrate Columbus Day and in 1937 it became a federal holiday.  

When compared to Columbus Day, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is far newer, having first been recognized by South Dakota in 1989 to replace Columbus Day. According to Indigenous groups, there is no set way to celebrate. Instead, they encourage everyone to reflect on our history as a country and the instrumental role Natives have played in shaping it. It is also important to recognize that, in America, we are taught a whitewashed history, praising figures like Christopher Columbus. In reality, they are the villains.  

Many people oppose the move to Indigenous Peoples’ Day because Columbus Day celebrates the cultural exchange between Europe and America. But the image of Christopher Columbus vastly overshadows any cultural exchange. Even though Columbus started the exchange of ideas and information, his recklessness set the precedent for the genocide of Natives and the exchange of human beings as slaves. 

While children across the US are taught about how Columbus was the first to discover America, this could not be further from the truth. There were already up to 60 million Indigenous People here. He was not even the first European — that title goes to Leif Eriksson, who landed in Newfoundland 450 years earlier. Many also credit Columbus for proving that the Earth was a globe when, in reality, most educated Europeans at the time already knew this. 

When Columbus was governor of Hispaniola, he administered barbaric forms of punishment, many of which were types of torture. Not to mention, Columbus was handing out these retributions to the enslaved Indigenous People who had been living peacefully in their homeland prior to his arrival. 

To put it simply, Columbus’ time in the Americas was horrific. It is ridiculous that in 2021, people still celebrate this man. He brought pain, suffering and slavery to the Americas. He was not a hero. He was not a good person. It is time to move on from his dark shadow and recognize all the Indigenous People who have been shoved aside for centuries.