Letter to the Editor: Columbus Day

Sasha Ronaghi

Indigenous Peoples’ Day should be celebrated and Columbus Day should not. Characterizing Christopher Columbus as the “first discoverer” degrades the accomplishments of the indigenous peoples that came first. Secondly, Leif Erikson and John Cabot preceded Columbus as the “first person from the ‘Old World’ to discover the ‘New World.’”  

Genocide is defined as an intentional killing of a specified population. For example, Adolf Hitler committed genocide by placing millions into concentration camps in which they died by “deliberate actions” such as gas chambers or from “non-deliberate actions” such as disease and starvation. All those who died, despite how their “intentional” murder was, were victims of genocide.

Similarly, Columbus and his crew intended to enslave and kill Native Americans for his money-making expedition, The Enterprise. Columbus created a situation in which some Native Americans died through “non-deliberate actions” such as disease or starvation (starvation was used as a punishment), but also through savage murder. The colonized Arawaks, for example, lost 200,000 people, or 80 percent of the original population, to war and slavery, according to the Harvard Crimson.  More importantly, regardless if one person or thousands of people died, each life matters and is more worthy than any economic or political gain.

If we don’t celebrate serial killers that murder ten people, we shouldn’t celebrate Columbus who intentionally killed thousands.

The goal of Columbus Day is to celebrate the “hero” Christopher Columbus, while indigenous peoples often go unacknowledged during this celebration. This is why we must abolish Columbus Day. It is important to learn about him and his terrible actions in history class, as we do when we learn about the Roman empire or Islamic Caliphate like you mentioned, but we must not revere him as a hero with a day off in the same way we celebrate veterans.

I agree America wouldn’t be the same without Columbus. Our history would not be as deeply rooted in racism. Columbus requested the monarchs of Spain to start the transatlantic slave trade. At the point when African Americans are being killed by our police force and still face systemic discrimination, it would be hard to deny his “cultural influence” of racism on American culture, especially when some states don’t teach students about the Indian Removal Act or slavery as the cause of the Civil War. Indigenous communities are also plagued by discrimination when they don’t have adequate access to education or healthcare.

In 2018, his influence still lives on in the American missionary, John Allen Chau, who intended to Christianize indigenous peoples living in North Sentinel, an island inhabited by those who are not immune to the diseases of outsiders.

America would also not be the same without indigenous peoples. They taught Europeans how to live off the land by planting corn and surviving winter (which we still do today), and how to grow cotton and tobacco (which allowed the US economy to grow). “American” political ideas, such as a representative democracy and having a central authority with states, are taken from the Iroquois confederacy. It was the Europeans who brought in ideas of monarchy, oppression, slavery, extreme poverty, rape, and violence. If you eat French fries or potato chips, take Vitamin C during cold season, or vote, you should thank indigenous peoples.

In the same way we give a week to celebrate the Pilgrims (Thanksgiving) or weeks to celebrate predominantly European Christian traditions (Christmas and Easter), the Indigenous people deserve at least a day to be recognized for surviving America’s first terrorist.