It is commonly believed that opposition
to Columbus celebrations dates to the later part of the 20th century. However,
the current group of American Indian activists are not alone historically. In
the nineteenth century, for example, "patriotic" activists sought
to eradicate Columbus Day celebrations because they thought the Catholics would
use the holiday to takeover the country. Similarly, the notion that Columbus
was responsible for more calamity and destruction than progress and prosperity
has been a recurrent theme ever since Columbus's "discovery". Even
the notion of connecting Columbus and Indian holocaust has been repeated periodically
Much controversy exists over Columbus'
expeditions and whether or not one can "discover" an already-inhabited
land. The natives of the Bahamas and other islands on his journey were peaceful
and friendly. Yet many of them were later enslaved by the Spanish. Also, it
is known that the Vikings explored the North American coast 500 years before
Although it is generally accepted that
Christopher Columbus was the first European to have discovered the New World
of the Americas, there is still some controversy over this claim. Some researchers
and proponents of other explorers attribute the first sightings to the early
Scandinavian Vikings or the voyages of Irish missionaries which predate the
Columbus visit in 1492. The controversy may never be fully resolved to everyone's
satisfaction, but 1992 marked the 500th anniversary of the Columbus discovery.
Nevertheless, Columbus' expedition was
unique and important in that it resulted in the first intertwining of Europe
with the Americas, resulting in the first permanent European colonies in the
In the late 20th century, groups on the
political left have voiced opposition to Columbus celebrations. Indigenous groups
in particular have opposed the holidays as celebrating the man who initiated
the European colonization of the new world. Opposition often focuses on the
cruel treatment indigenous peoples faced at the hands of Columbus and later
European settlers and the fact that the European conquest directly and indirectly
caused a massive decline in population among the indigenous peoples.
Those who say that Columbus Day aggravates
the past (and present) of racism in America, believe in the following as to
why they oppose this day:
* Christopher Columbus
is responsible for the murder of millions of indigenous people.
* Columbus was a slavetrader in Africa before invading America.
He began the slave trade in the Americas. He deserves no holiday, no parades,
* Columbus Day celebrates the doctrine of discovery –
the legal process that stole Indian people's territories, and that continues
* Columbus brought a philosophy of domination to the Americas
that persists today – domination of other peoples, domination of the environment,
domination of other belief systems, domination of women by men.
Some have argued that the responsibility
of contemporary governments and their citizens for allegedly ongoing acts of
genocide against Native Americans are masked by positive Columbus myths and
celebrations. These critics argue that a particular understanding of the legacy
of Columbus has been used to legitimize their actions, and it is this misuse
of history that must be exposed. Thus, Ward Churchill (the controversial professor
of Ethnic Studies at University of Colorado at Boulder, and a leader of the
American Indian Movement), has argued that:
Very high on the list of those expressions
of non-indigenous sensibility which contribute to the perpetuation of genocidal
policies against Indians are the annual Columbus Day celebration, events in
which it is baldly asserted that the process, events, and circumstances described
above are, at best, either acceptable or unimportant. More often, the sentiments
expressed by the participants are, quite frankly, that the fate of Native America
embodied in Columbus and the Columbian legacy is a matter to be openly and enthusiastically
applauded as an unrivaled "boon to all mankind". Undeniably, the situation
of American Indians will not — in fact cannot — change for the better
so long as such attitudes are deemed socially acceptable by the mainstream populace.
Hence, such celebrations as Columbus Day must be stopped.
The claim made here is that certain myths
about Columbus, and celebrations of Columbus, make it easier for people today
to avoid taking responsibility for their own actions, or the actions of their
Norman Solomon reflects in "Columbus
Day: A Clash of Myth and History" that many people choose to hold onto
the myths surrounding Columbus whereas historians who deal with the evidence
are frequently depicted as "politically correct" revisionists. He
quotes from the log book Columbus's initial description of the Indians: "They
do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took
it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance... They would make fine servants...
With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want."
and that in 1495, Indians were transported to Spain as slaves, many dying en
route. "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity," Columbus later wrote,
"go on sending all the slaves that can be sold."
Indians were ordered to bring to the
Spanish a quota of gold and those who failed had their hands cut off and were
left to bleed to death. Solomon states that the most important contemporary
documentary evidence is the multi volume "History of the Indies" by
the Catholic priest Bartolome de las Casas. In contrast to "the myth"
Solomon quotes Las Casas who describes Spaniards driven by "insatiable
greed" – "killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the
native peoples" with "the strangest and most varied new methods of
cruelty." and how systematic violence was aimed at preventing "Indians
from daring to think of themselves as human beings." The Spaniards "thought
nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them
to test the sharpness of their blades," wrote Las Casas. "My eyes
have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write."
In time for the observation of Columbus
Day 2004, the final volume of a compendium of Columbus era documents was published
by UCLA's Medieval and Renaissance Center. Geoffrey Symcox, the general editor
of the project asserted: "This is not your grandfather's Columbus...While
giving the brilliant mariner his due, the collection portrays Columbus as an
unrelenting social climber and self-promoter who stopped at nothing - not even
exploitation, slavery or twisting biblical scripture - to advance his ambitions...Many
of the unflattering documents have been known for the last century or more,
but nobody paid much attention to them until recently..The fact that Columbus
brought slavery, enormous exploitation or devastating diseases to the Americas
used to be seen as a minor detail - if it was recognized at all - in light of
his role as the great bringer of white man's civilization to the benighted idolatrous
American continent. But to historians today this information is very important.
It changes our whole view of the enterprise."
In the summer of 1990, 350 Native Americans,
representatives from all over the hemisphere, met in Quito, Ecuador, at the
first Intercontinental Gathering of Indigenous People in the Americas, to mobilize
against the quincentennial celebration of Columbus Day. The following summer,
in Davis, California, more than a hundred Native Americans gathered for a follow-up
meeting to the Quito conference. They declared October 12, 1992, International
Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People. The largest ecumenical body in the
United States, the National Council of Churches, called on Christians to refrain
from celebrating the Columbus quincentennial, saying, "What represented
newness of freedom, hope, and opportunity for some was the occasion for oppression,
degradation and genocide for others."
Venezuela responded to opposition by
renaming the Día de la Raza holiday the Día de la Resistencia
Indígena (Day of Indigenous Resistance).
F. David Peat asserts that many cultural
myths of North America exclude or diminish the culture and myths of Native Americans
and refers to the comments of Michael Berliner of the Ayn Rand Institute , on
Columbus day 1992, for his display of "prejudice" and "factual
ignorance". Berliner hailed the European conquest claiming that Western
civilization brought “reason, science, self-reliance, individualism, ambition,
and productive achievement” to a people who were based in “primitivism,
mysticism, and collectivism”, and to a land that was “sparsely inhabited,
unused, and underdeveloped.”