Today, in the United States, much of Latin American and the Caribbean, people are celebrating the holiday of Columbus Day. In the United States, it’s even recognized as a Federal Holiday. The story of Christopher Columbus is woven into the mythical imagination of Americans at a very young age as the hero who defied his critics and great odds to “discover” America. It’s a narrative that is very central to the American dream and the promise of this county. Yet, despite the centrality of this story to the origin myth of the United States, the average person would be appalled by the true story of Christopher Columbus which is more a story of unfettered greed and brutality than that of a noble explorer. No historian has been more successful and correcting the popular understanding of Columbus than the late historian Howard Zinn. His bestselling book “A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present” uses Columbus’ own writings and first-person accounts to tell a story very different from the one most children learn in grade school. Below is an entry from Columbus’ log as quoted in Zinn’s book.
They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned… . They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features…. 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 have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… . They would make fine servants…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.
– Quoted in Zinn, Howard (2005). A People’s History of the United States: 1492-present. Harper Perennial Modern Classics
Columbus made good on his promise to subjugate the people’s of Arawak. According to a first-hand account by the priest Bartolome De Las Casas, also quoted in Zinn 2005, “there were 60,000 people living on this island, including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over three million people had perished from war, slavery, and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this? I myself writing it as a knowledgeable eyewitness can hardly believe it….”.
As an ally with Indigenous peoples and their organizations, Village Earth is part of the growing movement to transform “Columbus Day” into “Indigenous People’s Day.” You can join us by educating your friends and family about the truth of Christopher Columbus but more importantly, you can help contemporize this day by educating yourself and others about the current and ongoing subjugation of Indigenous Peoples around the globe and by taking an affirmative stand by joining them in their struggle as an ally.
Part of our mission at Village Earth is to help create these kinds of connections. Through our Global Affiliate Program, we serve as bridge for innovative indigenous-led and allied organizations from around the world – connecting them to people with passion, time and resources. Celebrate Indigenous People’s Day by supporting one of these organizations today.