Reconsider Columbus Day
The holiday commemorating the discovery of America by Italian explorer Christopher Columbus has become one of the most divisive holidays of our time. Not only has it been the subject of ongoing backlash over the years, but it has also come under fire for its negative impact on Native Americans. However, there is a solution for transforming the holiday into something positive.
First, it is important to recognize the positive aspects of Columbus Day. After all, the man who sailed to the New World did so to discover the spices and mineral deposits of Asia, which would eventually fuel the growth of the United States. He also enriched Europe and established the foundation for western expansion.
Second, it’s important to acknowledge the negative impact of Columbus on native people. For example, during the centuries of European colonization, native populations were decimated, and many died of infectious diseases like smallpox. In fact, 90 percent of the native people who inhabited the land of the present day U.S., Mexico, and Central America died due to illness and disease, which were introduced by Europeans.
Third, it’s important to realize that Christopher Columbus was not the first to explore the New World. Indigenous peoples had been living in the Americas for thousands of years. As early as the 15th century, Native tribes had already made the long trek to the New World. This is the same area where today’s Dominican Republic, Haiti, and Jamaica currently reside.
Fourth, it’s important to remember that the legend of the discovery of the Americas is not the only tale worth telling. There is an alternative to Columbus Day that has gained momentum in recent years, which is Indigenous Peoples’ Day. It’s been successful in changing the name of a holiday and bringing greater attention to the history of Native peoples in the U.S. A number of cities, including Minneapolis, have adopted the idea and are celebrating the holiday.
Fifth, it’s important to consider the historical impact of Columbus’s arrival in the United States. Although Columbus did not discover the Americas, he brought with him the influenza and smallpox that caused millions of native deaths. Additionally, he enslaved and tortured natives. At least a third of the indigenous population was killed during the colonial period.
Finally, it’s important to appreciate that the renamed holiday has a slew of creative lesson plans, creative works, and historical documents to use. All of which can be found in Rethinking Schools’ new book, Rethinking Columbus: The Next 500 Years.
And, finally, it’s important to reevaluate the holiday’s role in the story of the United States. While the story of Columbus’s landing has long been a subject of debate, it seems that the holiday should be replaced with something better.
Several cities have already declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and the idea is spreading. In fact, several states have moved to rename the holiday. Others, such as Alaska and Portland, have refocused it.