Wikimedia Commons
Christopher Columbus is shown landing in the West Indies, on an island that the Natives called Guanahani and he named San Salvador, on October 12, 1492. He raises the royal banner, claiming the land for his Spanish patrons, and stands bareheaded, with his hat at his feet, in honor of the sacredness of the event. The captains of the Niña and Pinta follow, carrying the banner of Ferdinand and Isabella. The crew displays a range of emotions, some searching for gold in the sand. Natives watch from behind a tree. Painting by John Vanderlyn (1775-1852)

Native History: Columbus—Icon and Genocidal Maniac—Lands in New World

Christina Rose

This Date in Native History: On October 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the island of Guanahani, now known as the Bahamas, wreaking hell and havoc as he went. The son of a weaver, Columbus left Spain with three ships and 39 crew members in the hopes of gaining fame and wealth.

As Columbus approached land, the local Natives, the Arawaks, swam out to greet the ships. Columbus later wrote,  “They are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has witnessed them would believe it,” and “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.”

In a search for gold, of which there was very little, Columbus enslaved, murdered, and inflicted every sort of inhumane misery upon those gentle people.

With 17 additional ships and 1,200 men, Columbus promised to bring back as much gold and slaves as anyone could want. In 1495, they “rounded up” 1,500 Arawak men, women and children, chose 500 of the best, of which 200 died en route to Spain.

When the Arawaks could not produce enough gold, he cut off the hands of all those 14 years and older, and enslaved them on estates where they were worked to death. The most horrific reports came from a young priest, Bartolomé de Las Casas, who wrote, “The Spaniards think nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades.” He wrote of two Christians who met up with two Arawak boys and beheaded them for fun.

“Mothers drowned their babies from sheer desperation, husbands died in the mines, women died at work, children died from lack of milk... my eyes have seen acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write,” de Las Casas wrote.

According to his writings as read in Howard Zinn’s book The People’s History of the United States, over 3 million people perished at the hands of Columbus from 1494 to 1508. By 1515 there were only 50,000 left. By 1550, there were 500.

In schools, the story of Christopher Columbus is a tale of bravery and ambition, and throughout the Americas, he was given his own day.

Two newspaper articles, one in the Atlantic Monthly and another in the American Scholar, attempt to defend the holiday as one that celebrates Italians and Native Americans. With a photo of children marching in the Columbus Day Parade, the American Scholar author makes his case for celebrating the holiday as a day off, regardless of its origins.

The Atlantic Monthly article begins, “It’s worth remembering that the now-controversial holiday started as a way to empower immigrants and celebrate American diversity.” But is it really worth remembering in that way?

Kurt Kaltreider, of Nanticoke and Cherokee descent, wrote American Indian Prophesies, a book that begins with a fictional conversation about the very real atrocities inflicted upon Native Americans. He said there is only one way to understand the inhumanity of Columbus. “In many ways, it goes back to the Old Testament, in Psalm 2 line 8, ‘Ask of me, and I shall give thee the heathen for thine inheritance, and the uttermost parts of the earth for thy possession.’”

Kaltreider explained, “The Roman Empire, which was mostly Catholics, began to take over the majority of the Western World” under the principal “that any war in the name of Christianity was automatically just.”

“In absolute superiority, they claimed against others because of divine endowment, then ascribed it to being naturally superior,” Kaltrieder said. “The enemies of the crusaders were the enemies of their God. Slaughter and lies were not dishonest for the true religion, and so everything was okay. It graduated from religious conceptions to racial perceptions. Religious fanaticism is the same today, where you are only good if you are a follower of a particular God.”

That explanation may have worked for the 15th century, but what is it about American culture that still resists the truth more than 500 years later? Has it simply become a western tradition to do so?

Columbus’ crimes against humanity are no longer being accepted everywhere. Indigenous people throughout the Americas are now calling for the recognition of the truth.

In Caracas in 2004, according to the Venezuela Analysis News, “a group of young men and women tore down the statue of the 15th century explorer during this national holiday that was renamed the Day of Indigenous Resistance.”

In Denver, Colorado, Columbus Day protests have been held since 1989 when Russell Means, Lakota, was arrested for pouring fake blood on a statue of Columbus. Protests have been held annually and thousands of supporters have marched to do away with the day, but the protesters have continually met resistance from the Italian community.

Russell Means leads a chant during a protest of Columbus Day celebrations on October 12, 1998 in Pueblo, Colorado. The protesters gathered to show their opposition to the hanging of a wreath on a statue of Christopher Columbus by Pueblo's Italian community.

Pennie Opal Plant, of Yaqui, Mexican, English, Dutch, Choctaw, Cherokee and Algonquin ancestry, is owner of the gallery Gathering Tribes in Berkeley, California. She remembers when the holiday was renamed Indigenous Day.  Groups of people met and organized in her gallery and stormed city hall meetings until they succeeded in changing the name.

“Italian people have had their history submerged for so long that they need to see Columbus was a genocidal maniac,” she said. “Reclaiming the rich, brilliant, Italian history is much more inspiring than claiming Columbus as a cultural icon.”

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Anonymous's picture
Submitted by Anonymous on
At almost every job I have had it never fails, people complain every Martin Luther King day about "how expensive it is to have a holiday for him", and how the holiday should be abolished. I can see the accomplishments of Dr. King but I don't understand why Columbus Day has endured. The only explanation that I can think of is that this government can't admit that they are WRONG. So every year the holiday is celebrated, every second grader can recite "In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue" for memory. Every November school children continue to dress up like pilgrims and Indians for Thanksgiving and another generation is programmed just like mine was over 40 years ago in the American public school system. Challenging this will be very hard because for so many people it is almost a doctrine of faith, but as our system erodes more people are beginning to question their basic assumptions more which is a good thing.

kamana's picture
Submitted by kamana on
Greed is the root of evil and the white man is the greediest animal to ever set foot on the american continents. If it is wrong to be evil, then it is also wrong to be greedy.

Valerie Cleveland 's picture
Valerie Cleveland
Submitted by Valerie Cleveland on
Since I was a child ,I'v been told I have native blood in me . I have fair skin, green eyes .. Just recently a passing of my Uncle the family received a wedding certificate dating 9/26/1892 of my great grandparents wedding . My Grandmother was Seneca /Blackfoot . So I have been connecting with my Native ancestry . As a child we were taught that Columbus was a friend to the natives and he was a hero for discovering America ... What crap we were fed . we were children unaware we'r taught to trust the teachers , they wouldn't lie to us ,but they did .. Columbus was as bad or worse than Hitler .I'm heart broke over what my ancestors went through ..

Gayla Biser's picture
Gayla Biser
Submitted by Gayla Biser on
In light of what I have learned here today, I am changing what I am teaching to my students today about "Columbus Day." They will learn the truth about what really happened, not some glossed over Eurocentric version which glamorizes the inhumanity of what happened to native people.

Jim Covarrubias's picture
Jim Covarrubias
Submitted by Jim Covarrubias on
America built itself with atrocities, genocide and racism. The paranoia is evident in the close-minded attitudes of the Tea Party and the anal Republican Party, deliver us Creator from these mean spirited immigrants and lead us into a new era of respect and peace.

Brian 'Gups-Y-Bees Waddington's picture
Brian 'Gups-Y-B...
Submitted by Brian 'Gups-Y-B... on
Columbus was many things but to stretch the definition of maniac or genocidal to fit him destroys the meaning of both words. He had no desire to kill off an entire people. He needed slaves. He treated the inhabitants of the lands he bumped into no better or worse than people in Europe were being treated. Certainly after Columbus the governments of what would become Canada and the United States of America embarked upon a genocidal campaign against those who lived in the land before the arrival of more outsiders. But why blame Columbus for something he did not do. By all means blame him for what he did, but only for what he did please and thank-you.

hstrmymon's picture
Submitted by hstrmymon on
...all the history books should be re-written and children need to learn about the atrocities that the native americans endured during this time in history. Todays technology has made sure that everything hidden in the dark now comes to light.

tehamigo's picture
Submitted by tehamigo on
the only people that make out on these 'holidays' are govt. worker and teachers ... no one else gets paid or gets the day off.

LEM's picture
Submitted by LEM on
It's refreshing to know that "somewhere out THERE" the truth is still being uttered. But is there more.....Why are indigenous people on nearly every continent called "Indians"? Is this not a carry-over from another blunder that Columbus made.....thinking that he had landed in India? History is replete with obvious lies & half truths. They live on until a movement sheds light on the darkness of the past. For ANYONE to say, "That was then and this is now so, Get Over It," is to accept the lie as fact. We cannot knowingly inculcate a lie into the fabric of history. Who benefits? Tell & accept the truth, then, Live Up To It! Stand For Something or Fall For Anything!