I grew up with a statue of Columbus in the nearest thing we had to a park in Atlantic City in the fifties. I grew up in an Italian community. Columbus Day was a big thing. As immigrants to America, he was our hero, the one we could point to and say we belong because he started it all and he’s Italian. Needless to say, when this history was presented to us, Native Americans got short shrift. They were the savages that Europeans brought “civilization” to. They were the savages we saved by converting them to Christianity. They were, in our history classes, all grateful to us for what we did for them. That’s why they helped Europeans during those first harsh winters and at Thanksgiving.
Now I find out that while Columbus may have been Italian, the Italians (and to be totally correct, there was no Italy in 1492 so he is more correctly called a Genoan) were not impressed enough by his plans to fund his voyages. That honor went to Spain. And, while we’re at it, Columbus didn’t discover North America and never actually landed on it. What he did do was have the honor of bringing disease and destruction to the Caribbean tribes that he did encounter.
So basically my whole childhood knowledge of this day and this man were a cover up of the truth. The truth is that you can’t really discover something that has been known for centuries since the Vikings landed there. You can’t really discover a place that already has millions of inhabitants and multiple rich and varied cultures. You can’t really save people for Christ if those people already have their own belief systems that work just fine for them.
What Columbus did was start a stampede to a land that was already occupied and a slaughter of the people who were already living there. It’s hard to get excited about that. I realize that Columbus sailed during the golden age of European exploration but I also realize that his exploration led to the extermination of some people and the exploitation and enslavement of others, all in the names of Christ and civilization.
So I’m going to go ahead and call this Indigenous American Day in my head and instead of celebrating, hold a moment of silence for all the death and destruction we brought to this continent as we pursued the doctrine of Manifest Destiny. And I will hope against hope that the current administration, congress and supreme court will not cause them further harm by trying to negate the progress they’ve made in pulling themselves out of the neglect and poverty to which we relegated them. I realize it’s at best a thin hope, but it’s really all we have.