Today is Columbus Day, a federally-observed holiday and the day on which Americans celebrate Christopher Columbus’ “discovery” of the new world. Many are reluctant to celebrate Columbus’ so-called achievement, since a new land can’t truly be “discovered” if human beings already live there, and evidence shows that other European explorers such as Leif Ericsson likely visited the New World before Columbus. But the real problem many people, including the staff and most members of American Humanist Association, have with this holiday is that it glosses over of Columbus’ deplorable human rights violations, which are as numerous as they are horrifying.
Columbus is infamous for his comments about a native people who welcomed him to their land, stating “I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased.” And the renowned explorer did just that on his voyages in the New World, murdering, enslaving, and kidnapping more than 1,500 hundred native men, women, and children according to Laurence Bergreen’s book Columbus: The Four Voyages, 1492-1504. Columbus was so vicious in his treatment of Native Americans that, according to his own personal journal, the Taino people had their population reduced almost to extinction within thirty years.
With legacy in mind, countless Americans won’t be celebrating Columbus Day. Thankfully, alternatives to this holiday are being adopted across the country to honor the true legacy of Columbus and the suffering endured by the inhabitants of the continent he “discovered.”
Minneapolis is one city embracing an alternative to this day, as they will celebrate “Indigenous People’s Day” for the first time ever. According to Erin Golden of the Minneapolis Star Tribune, “poetry, music, dance and a ‘precolonization’ feast will be part of the celebration” as citizens reflect on the impacts of colonization on Native Americans. Minnesota has a reputation for creating alternatives to Columbus Day, as two other cities, Duluth and Red Wing, will not be officially celebrating Columbus Day. Other major cities like Seattle, Washington, and Berkeley, California, have joined this progressive tradition and created alternative holidays to recognize the plight of native peoples in America.
Federal holidays should be days on which all Americans can join together in celebration with a clear mind. Our federal government would do well by looking at the examples certain cities and states have set and considering how best to honor those affected by Christopher Columbus. America wouldn’t tolerate a celebration marking the achievements of modern murderers, so we must apply that standard equally to historical figures regardless of their impact on our own national history.