It’s hard to fathom the idea that Christopher Columbus is still honored with a holiday, given what we know about his actions against indigenous populations.
After quite a bit of recent scholarship on the subject, we know that Columbus ordered his men to cut the hands from Taino people who did not return with gold for the European invaders.
We know that Columbus immediately set out to create a system of enslavement in the Caribbean. We know that within a generation most of the Taino people were dead as a result of murder, starvation, and disease.
We know that some of Columbus’ contemporaries objected to his treatment of the Taino people. And we know that Columbus’ policies spawned the largest genocide in human history.
And yet, more than 500 years after the fact, we still honor this man.
Being on the wrong side of history in terms of who we honor is a pattern in the United States. Much like the Lost Cause narrative leading to the creation of statues and memorials throughout the South (honoring the soldiers and generals of an army that fought to maintain a system of brutality and enslavement), so too do we honor Columbus.
Unfortunately, the genocide that Columbus initiated is not simply history. The ramifications are with us today and can be seen in the social and economic reality of indigenous populations in the United States and throughout the Americas. Their dispossession has led to widespread impoverishment, oppression, lack of resources, segregation, and discrimination.
While Brattleboro and other communities have taken the step to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous People’s Day, the time has come to abolish Columbus Day on a national level and to work toward the collective good of all people and not just the privileged few.
The time has come to honor true heroes rather than thieves, enslavers, and murderers.