Columbus Day

Teyanna Kaibetoney, Arts and Entertainment Editor

My name is Teyanna Kaibetoney and I am Diné (Navajo). I am from Bilagáana (Anglo) and born for Tábąąhá (Water Edge Clan).  I come from people with a deep history. Last year, the State of Utah made the decision to make Indigenous Peoples’ Day a holiday along with Columbus Day. This decision to honor both Columbus and Indigenous people is asinine. How can we have a day to celebrate both the murderer and the victims? There is no excuse to celebrate someone like Columbus. It’s disrespectful to a whole group of people, my people, who have been through tremendous pain, suffering, and heartache.

On the second Monday in October, we celebrate a holiday in honor of Columbus and his discovery of the ‘New World’. In recent years, Columbus Day has become a controversial holiday because of the things Columbus actually did. Columbus is an important figure in history and should be discussed in schools. However, we also need to understand that there is a dark side of Columbus’s history that is not mentioned in schools. The other side of the story paints a dark and gruesome picture and it needs to be more commonly shared.  

Columbus did sail the ocean blue in 1492, but he also killed Indigenous people too. Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean in search for a faster route to India but ended up in the present day Bahamas. Columbus treated the Native people callously, brought new diseases, and ultimately started the genocide of Native people. Mr. Shields, the advisor of the American Indian Student Association said, “It [was] a genocide of lives, a genocide of culture, it’s a genocide in the fact that we continue to not teach that perspective.”

In the book, A People’s History of the United States, historian Howard Zinn states that Columbus journaled about how the Native people were inferior to him. He took indigenous people back to Europe to show them off, displaying them like animals. Columbus enslaved Natives as young as 14 years old to search for gold. If gold wasn’t found, the Europeans would punish the Native people by cutting off their hands or even killing them. There was often no gold in these areas except for the small amounts found in streams and rivers. Howard Zinn calls attention to the fact that Columbus and the Spaniards were killing the Arawaks (the Indigenous Caribbean Natives). As a result the Arawaks attempted to fight back. The Spaniards’ cruelty was evident when they raped, burned, or hung the Natives that they captured. Due to this cruelty, Arawak people started to commit mass suicides. They fed poison to their infants to protect their children from the tortures the Spaniards inflicted. After two years, half of these Indigenous people were dead from murder, disease, mutilation, or suicide.

Columbus Day was created in 1937. We have been celebrating a murderer for 81 years, and that needs to end. Instead of celebrating Columbus we should learn more of the truth behind his discovery of the ‘New World’. Mr. Shields said, “It’s [Columbus Day] not something we should celebrate. We should teach, and caution, and understand. and not keep creating a fantasy out of who he [Columbus] was.”

There is no excuse for having a holiday that celebrates a mass murderer. We should educate ourselves, and start connecting Columbus with other mass murderers like Hitler, or Stalin. As a Native American, I get emotional when discussing Columbus Day with others and they use the argument that they wouldn’t be in America without the explorations of Columbus; this argument alone gives him hero status. This point of view is selfish and excuses his murderous ways. Christopher Columbus had the same ethnocentric point of view like many other mass murderers, and yet we don’t celebrate them.

As we approach the Columbus Day holiday I can’t help but feel angry, sad, and discouraged. It’s heartbreaking because my peers were taught to celebrate a man who ‘discovered’ a ‘new world’ that was already inhabited. They were taught rhymes and songs to remember a fabricated story that excludes the killing of peaceful people. Not teaching and understanding Native American culture is silencing the voices of Indigenous people. The murder, torture, rape, and enslavement of my people should not be honored as a holiday.

We need to solely celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It should be a day to celebrate a culture that’s dying, a culture with a long history deeply rooted in the American continent. We need to understand that Native Americans have a deep love and respect for all things in life. Indigenous Peoples’ Day is a day to make Indigenous voices like mine be heard. Do you hear me? If you do, wear all black on Columbus Day to symbolize the dark history of Columbus.