Does Columbus Day Honor a Monster?

Posted October 13th, 2014 at 7:35 am (UTC-4)


Italian-Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus is shown in this work by Italian painter Sebastiano Del Piombo. (AP Photo)

Every year, on the second Monday in October, the United States celebrates a federal holiday honoring a man who freely admitted committing atrocities against the native people of the Americas, including cutting off their hands, noses or ears to keep them in line, and sexually enslaving girls as young as nine, gifting them to his men.

“There are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls,” Christopher Columbus wrote in his journal in 1500. “Those from nine to ten are now in demand.”

When Columbus arrived in the Bahamas (he never actually set foot in the contiguous United States) on Oct. 12, 1492, he noted the peaceful and hospitable nature of the native Arawaks, Lucayans and Taínos.

“They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features….They do not bear arms, and do not know them,” he wrote. “They would make fine servants….With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

High school student Yomeidi Jose, 16, of Boston, wears a flag on her head while assisting other JROTC students in supporting an oversized American flag during a Columbus Day Parade in Boston, Oct. 12, 2014. (AP Photo)

High school student Yomeidi Jose, 16, of Boston, wears a flag on her head while assisting other JROTC students in supporting an oversized American flag during a Columbus Day Parade in Boston, Oct. 12, 2014. (AP Photo)

Which is exactly what he did. Columbus enslaved the natives, setting them to work in his gold mines. Those who didn’t collect enough of the valuable dust had their hands chopped off and tied around their necks to send a message to their fellow workers.

More than four centuries later, the idea of a day to honor the explorer was conceived by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal organization that wanted a Catholic hero role model for its children. In 1937, U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt signed the law that made Columbus Day a federal holiday.

Today, most government employees have the day off. Banks, the bond market, and many schools are closed. Twenty-three states and the District of Columbia give their workers a paid holiday on Columbus Day, according the Council of State Governments.

However, over the years, the explorer’s controversial legacy has led many U.S. cities and states to temper the celebrations surrounding his namesake holiday.

In Columbus, Ohio, Columbus Day used to be a big event, but it’s been 16 years since the last parade.

New York City’s Columbus Day parade still draws around a million spectators and 35,000 marchers, but the event is now billed as an annual celebration of Italian-American Heritage. Many Italian-Americans see Columbus Day as celebration of their heritage.

Thousands of ethnic Mapuches, Chile's largest indigenous group, marched in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 12, 2014,  demanding the restitution of their ancestral lands on the day commemorating the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus' arrival to the Americas. (AFP PHOTO)

Thousands of ethnic Mapuches, Chile’s largest indigenous group, marched in Santiago, Chile, on Oct. 12, 2014, demanding the restitution of their ancestral lands on the day commemorating the 522nd anniversary of Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the Americas. (AFP PHOTO)

A couple of weeks ago, the school board in Seattle, in Washington State, decided to have schools observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the same day as Columbus Day. Minneapolis, Minnesota and Berkeley, California, have also designated that day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which pays tribute to the Polynesian discoverers of the nation’s 50th state.

Meanwhile, in South Dakota, Columbus Day has been known as Native American Day since 1990.

Mary Bordeaux, curator and director of Cultural Affairs for the Indian Museum of North America in South Dakota, would like to see the trend away from Columbus Day continue.

“It’s taking something that has traditionally been in America the celebration of what I see as the annihilation of the native population and trying to bring more awareness to the truth of our history in America,” she said. “By switching it to Indigenous Day or Discoverer’s Day, it starts a conversation about native people. It kind of opens up a dialogue.”

Bordeaux, a Native American who grew up on a reservation (an area of land managed by a Native American tribe under the U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs), would like to see real action result from that discourse. High on her list is the rewriting of U.S. school textbooks that continue to glorify Columbus and discredit Native Americans.

“We still are the only minority in the United States that has to enroll, that has to get a number from the United States government to claim to be Native American,” Bordeaux said, “and so to continue celebrating and glorifying Christopher Columbus, we’re just continuing to support [the idea] that the people who were here before weren’t people, that they weren’t anything.”

44 responses to “Does Columbus Day Honor a Monster?”

  1. […] and director of Cultural Affairs for the Indian Museum of North America in South Dakota, tells Voice of America. “and so to continue celebrating and glorifying Christopher Columbus, we’re just continuing to […]

    • Kevin O'kane says:

      There is a lot of talk in Christian circles about how devout Columbus was. Actually, the evidence shows that Columbus only started to get devout after the Spanish victory over the Muslims at Granada in 1492. Up until then he was motivated by fame and fortune which he only came to reject in the later stages of his life. After the fall of Granada, he became convinced God was going to use him to fulfill medieval prophecies about a conquering of Jerusalem from the Muslims. New world gold was supposed to accomplish that. It went hand in hand with acquiring wealth for himself. This was in keeping with the eschatology of the day. This, of course, is often not talked about in our modern textbooks. What’s also not often talked about is the massive amount of human sacrifice the indigenous peoples were involved with. So when we talk about the atrocities of Columbus and the Spanish, which were extensive, we should keep in mind the atrocities the indigenous visited upon themselves. I discuss this more on my blog:

      • michael redcrow says:

        “What’s also not often talked about is the massive amount of human sacrifice the indigenous peoples were involved with. So when we talk about the atrocities of Columbus and the Spanish, which were extensive, we should keep in mind the atrocities the indigenous visited upon themselves. I discuss this more on my blog ”

        Holding up a practice that was almost exclusively practiced in what is now Mexico and areas Southwards of Mexico as i assume some kind of excuse to what happened to Tribes that did NOT employ such practices is weak and apologist, and also appears to lean towards Eurocentrism.
        At the least it reflects the common mistake of overlooking that even N.America alone had over 100 distinct Tribes ,all with different ways – Would you find it acceptable for say , French people to be condemned out of hand because of practices that the Swedes had? Because that is effectively the same scenario you are describing – justifying ALL Tribes destruction and enslavement/dispossession over Aztec/Mayan events.

        I won’t even bother going into the growing amount of archaeological and anthropological evidence that several Western civilizations practised human sacrifice(s) on a regular basis- these can easily be Googled .

        No, I am afraid that barbarity was as common and rampant in Europe as in the Americas taken as a whole. Display of severed heads on the Tower and Bridge of London, drawing and quartering ,torture devices of uncounted varieties , burning at the stake , impalement ,breaking on the rack, etc- not to mention the Spanish Inquisition. Portrayal of “all” indigenous peoples in the Americas as “bloodthirsty savages” is a denial of reality and historical evidence and fact ,as is by omission insinuating the Europeans were handing out milk and cookies at home and doing curtsies .

      • Yu says:

        it is one thing to defile yourself or commit suicide. to cross the oceans and defile and massacre an entire people for gain is quite another. this is the problem others have with white people – they can dish it out, but to have that dishing pointed out to them, they’re not so good at that.

        • eileen roche says:

          So what else is new.White people have a lot to answer for…

          • Michelle says:

            Grow up. This man was Italian . You are not white I assume? You have a lot to answer for for your hate.that will catch up with you.

        • Sun Tsu says:

          I think you’re wrong about that, because generally people didn’t sacrifice themselves. I don’t think there was a suicide epidemic and just because we found some evidence that someone may have appeared to commit suicide, are you certain they were not coerced?

          A better arguement is that Columbus wanted to visit peaceful people with violence. I would agree that attacking a peaceful group is much worse than attacking a violent group. And some of the indiginous peoples were not violent, but some were even more violent.

  2. Lou DiDonato says:

    Couldn’t agree more, out of all the great Italians we choose to honor a child abuser, human trafficker and murderer Christopher Columbus who I highly doubt was Italian at all.
    Furthermore, being of Italian descent it sickens me this man is honored for anything.

    • Michael says:

      In Steve Berry’s novel “The Columbus Affair”, the author’s research shows Columbus was indeed born in Genoa, Italy, to Jewish parents, and later moved to Spain. He was forced to “convert” to Catholicism during the Spanish Inquisition, or leave the country or be killed.
      He spent years in Jamaica, where he committed atrocities amongst the natives.

    • Deplane says:

      And your so called nation? Which one I might add which had the worst record of child abuse and abuse against women, forcing other tribes into camps, must not want that dirt out there now do you? You all must have something on some of the council members or they just want to get you out of their hair. Just saying.

  3. floridalegal says:

    “the idea of a day to honor the explorer was conceived by the Knights of Columbus, a Catholic Fraternal organization that wanted a Catholic hero role model for its children”

    Reasons for the politically correct to hold something out of favor and improper: Promoted by religious individuals or organizations. A fraternal organization which means it was organised by males and not uni-whatever in origin. Not an en vogue ethnic or social class or group. (At one time discrimination and prejudice against Italian, Irish, etc was acknowledged. Now too European to be considered real.) Headlines/Fund raising. Promoting role models that are not government or academia first approved and then delivered down to the masses. (The people are too… to come up with things on their own.) “That’s so traditional”.

    I’m not Italian. If a holiday was being taken away from a non European nationality, the people who are advocating changes would be the first to howl. Is there a passing thought that taking away the holiday that was instituted to provide positive things for Italians might be disparaging or hurtful to Italian’s?

    • McMann says:

      Uh, Gee, Florida Legal, there is not a single other holiday for a non-American (other than Jesus, and no one would argue that Columbus is exactly worthy of that comparison). In fact, we have only two holidays honoring individuals, Washington and MLK, and they were both bonafide heroes. And who is the knucklehead that said that the native people were just as bad? Not according to Columbus himself, who was happy to say how easy it would be to make them do whatever their little hearts desired. 9 year old girls? Hands hung from necks? Humans were and are pretty awful to each other sometimes. You don’t have to look very far back or far away for proof of that. We’re talking about a particular human who was particularly awful AND gets a holiday celebrating his dubious achievements. Gimme a break.

      P.S., FLorida, no apostrophe before s when it’s a plural. EVER. sheesh.

    • kbbl says:

      Galileo Day is February 15th. Clearly he’s an Italian far more deserving of praise.

  4. Adriano says:

    C’mon Teabaggers, let’s hear some of your usual vitriol and lazy boneheaded racist drivel on how bumping Columbus is an affront to American history.

    • Guy says:

      funny most of the hatred I see comes from the left…thanks for responding as normal…go on and hate the rest of the day.

  5. Deplane says:

    Oh what the heck might as well change the name of the United States of wait for it, wait for it……….. AMERICA…….. Dam Christopher Columbus did it. Next comes the council members children new names for them also what the hell just renam everything while you all are in a roll lol. Seriously though why not name today US DAY. We all gave something to make this country as good as it is, which deep down inside is a great place to live.

  6. Chris Metzger says:

    Before commemoration of perhaps the greatest and bravest explorer of all time is totally re-written by the goose-stepping politically correct police, may I ask which indigenous group has been chosen to take his place? The ones that massacred the indigenous people before themselves? Or the ones that had some of the most vicious anti-women practices even seen on the continent? Or the ones that would have set sail to explore Europe or other parts of the world (yuk yuk)? Or are we lumping them all together regardless of some of their own genocidal and forced relocation policies against other Indian nations? Just curious is all. Oh??? The heinous policies and practices of those groups of early Americans are off the table? My bad. Just seems that if ol’ Chris is put under the PC microscope, so too should his detractors.

  7. Philip Smeeton says:

    The liberal left are terrified of offending any sort of minority, to such a degree that they are teaching us to despise ourselves, we the European-Americans that built America and guaranteed the left their freedom to give it all way.

  8. TexasT says:

    While we are at it why not drop or change MLK day in America. He was an adulterer after all. The Great Adulterer Day. That way Clinton, Kennedy, and all the others who have slept with someone other than their legal spouse can be honored.

    • Ceep says:

      Would that include Newt Gingrich, Mark Sanford, David Vitter, Mark Foley etc as well? If we know one thing, it’s that moral corruption transcends political parties. If there’s one thing that’s truly non-partisan in DC, it’s lack of morality.

      • Guy says:

        do they have a holiday? I believe they were exposed and repudiated from their party. Since you are casting stone….I suppose you have led a model life and love all mankind? Or just the 30% that vote in lock step(many of your party just vote their meal ticket and what their district boss tells them) with the DailyKOS?

    • Intelmom017 says:

      That’s a great comment

    • Emanon says:

      Are you seriously equating child-rape, slavery, torture, and genocide with… adultery? Are you that moronic?

      And that said, regardless of his faults, MLK set out to do a great thing and succeeded. At best, ignoring Columbus’ heinous sins, CC was an idiot who was lost and had no bloody clue where he was for decades. He wasn’t an “explorer.” Explorers actually realize they’re heading into the unknown. CC was a lost moron who thought he was in India.

  9. Philip Smeeton says:

    A country belongs to those that conquer it, but only if they can keep possession of it. Our forefathers fought to possess this land, and they have fought to defend it. The least we can do is make some sort of effort to keep it, and not just meekly let it be given and taken away.

    • McMann says:

      Yeah, we crushed them Tainos and what not so we get to . . . oh wait, that wasn’t even in America, and he didn’t do nothing for us Americans except give us a long weekend in October. But you keep standing up for our rights Philip, and don’t let no PC yahoos push us around on our own soil that we took fair and square. or whatever.

    • Yu says:

      your forefathers butchered and stole to get this land …. and look at it now. So what do you do? Blame the descendants of the victims, many who, by the way, would not even be here to ruin your ride had you left them alone in the first place.

  10. […] However, the Geneose explorer was pretty candid about his aims to enslave the tribes he found in the Bahamas, including the sexual enslavement of girls as young as nine, Dora Hasan Mekouar writes in Voice of America. […]

  11. Sean MacLiam says:

    I think we can agree MLK, Kennedy, Clinton, Washington, Linclon, etc were not Saints. They were men, mortal men who made some douchey decisions. Does their adultery/slave ownership/insert something wrong they did here outweigh how much good they accomplished? I don’t think so.

    Christopher Columbus on the other hand, was an animal. Period. He was a *#@*. I don’t think we should have a holiday honoring a *#@*. (Note: Profanity removed by VOA)

  12. Ed Mcelhaney says:

    Columbus was an opportunist and, what we occasionally refer to as a S*O*B. The holiday does not celebrate the man or his many shortcomings, but the fact that he was the first to find, and begin commerce in what was/is termed “the New World”. (The nature of that commerce is another story). Yes, the Vikings were most likely the first, and the reaction in that culture was the Norse equivilent of Duuuuuuuude!!!!!!!!!!!!!!, and that was that.

    History turned on the Columbus expedition. We Americans are here because of that pivotal event. That is why we have a holiday and it sounds better than “Queen Isabella Day”.

    Have some pizza and find another reason to loathe history.

  13. Farhanahz Ellis says:

    Does Cristoforo Colombo (his real name) deserves a holiday? Oh heavens NO! But why are we entangling him with ALL the evils of colonization when he was not the first, not the last and not the worst of the “conquistadores” who made it to the Americas? There is a quite long list of “men” (to the least extent of the word) that deserve at least the same condemnation, if not more: Cortes, Nuñez de Balboa, Pizarro, de Almagro,Ponce de Leon, the bandeirantes in Brazil, Diaz de Solis and the “reductions” in Argentina, Hernandez de Cordoba, de las Casas just to name a very few! With that been said, there are quite a lot of myths about Colombo that still refuse to die. But the most pervasive is the one about him going on his way to India and not knowing that he ended up somewhere else. If this were to be true, it would had killed his brother Bartolomeo, who was a very well known and reputable cartographer of the time. Perhaps it’ll be quite an educational treat to search in the Archivo de la Casa de Medina Sidonia (the Archives of the House of Medina Sidonia), a unique collection of six million original documents dating back to 1228 and the largest private archive in Spain, possibly in Europe.

  14. Guy says:

    So lets take all history out of context. Let banish Jefferson…slave owner. Washington…Slaves again. Let cancel 4th of July….lots of offenses there. Cancel Halloween…don’t get me started. And Memorial Day or Veterans Day…well do we really need to explore the history of every vet? St Patricks day…I am sure he did something and the Irish have had their problems. Then their is Christmas and the baggage of the Church. And well the Democratic Party should be abolished for its unswaying support of slavery, anarchy and against civil rights. No one doubts that Columbus opened the New World to the West and civilization. Sorry mud huts and no written text or real energineering, does constitute civilization…though I like corn and tomatoes…so maybe we will give them a pass. Do we want to explore each tribe of native americans and their various atrocities Pretending that all native were just living in eden and just happy go lucky….is just DISHONEST. Celebrating the founding of the Americas to history is a worthy celebration. Discovers Day does have an appeal…though.

    • Yu says:

      ” Pretending that all native were just living in eden and just happy go lucky….is just DISHONEST” – who is doing that?! You are the first one I’ve read on here saying anything even like that. “all native” as you put kept their atrocities at home. They did not go out into the world seeking whom the could commit them upon, and then expect to be praised for it.

      • Yutoo says:

        What is “the world”? If you spread it beyond yourself it was the world. Tribes massacred other tribes by massacring their world.

  15. Guy says:

    Maybe Columbus should have been more like Poen de Leon….were the indians he met friendly? Really this piece is a joke.

    if the democrats(consummate history rewriters…which political party was against slavery, against women rights and civil rights? ) ran Spain then…they would still be studying whether the trip was possible today having spent $100 Trillion on “studies” as to the possibilities of land beyond the horizon. Various hangers on such as the Al Gore’s of their time would be vastly wealthy without actually ever having accomplished anything beyond granting access for various power brokers to share in the $100 Trillion. How many hundreds of billions have we spent on renewable power and how many people like Obama Irish Ambassador have become vastly wealthy off things like wind turbines that generate minor amounts of energy…while making their backers very wealthy indeed, with generous kickbacks for the enablers. See Tim Geithner, Peter Orzag, Rahm Emanuel, William Daily, Ben Bernanke, Robert Rubin, Bill Clinton, any politician from the Chicago area, etc on the more direct route to wealth….government power for personal wealth! Oddly Jon Corzine seemed to miss out as he took vast wealth and destroyed it….any of you democrats can explain why he isn’t?
    Other than Columbus records how do we know these natives were living in harmony? Did they have a written language? How about those Cassoloue….were they really nice people? Or how about the various African nations that still have slavery? Always sad to see people twists little slivers of history and blame one group while whitewashing the other…. But alas people of the current administrator seem to think people can’t see it.

    Ponce de León met with hostility from tribes that may have been the Ais and the Tequesta before rounding Cape Sable to meet the Calusa, the largest and most powerful tribe in South Florida. Ponce de León found at least one of the Calusa fluent in Spanish.[13] The explorer assumed the Spanish-speaker was from Hispaniola, but anthropologists have suggested that communication and trade between Calusa and native people in Cuba and the Florida Keys was common, or that Ponce de León was not the first Spaniard to make contact with the native people of Florida.[14] During his second visit to South Florida, Ponce de León was killed by the Calusa, and the tribe gained a reputation for violence, causing future explorers to avoid them… human sacrifice as a common practice: when the child of a cacique died, each resident gave up a child to be sacrificed, and when the cacique died, his servants were sacrificed to join him. Sounds really nice!!

  16. Wayne says:

    Columpus must have been some of the inspiration for Chuck Darwin. When he published his Origin.. Preservation of Favoured Races in the Struggle for Life he inspired a wave of hate and racism that is still killing masses of “unfavoured races” to this day. The elite still insist that there is such a thing as the “3rd world” and nonsense like that! Like the singer sang, “He started a joke, that started the whole world crying…”

  17. WAG_ says:

    Mud-slinging is the norm and facts are incidental. It’s a shame. Does anyone ever wonder where this left/right schism in the US will eventually end up?

  18. Logan Hartanian says:

    Well, if we are going to rewrite history by seeing Columbus through a 21st century lens… lets break out the pen and paper, we have a lot of rewriting to do, and a lot of evil to expose. All of history is going down the toilet now, and when we finish there will be no heroes and nothing noble, at all!

  19. Tim says:

    Columbus Day no more honors a monster than Presidents Day honors a great number of monsters. But then again….

  20. Schorche says:

    One thing that you all ignore is that Christopher Columbus did not discover the New World at all. He had charts and maps for the places where he went. The Vikings and the Chinese both made it here before Columbus. Look it up. Gavin Menzies has done some great research and published a book called “1421 : The Year the Chinese Discovered the World.” The Chinese sailed around the world, discovered America, and ignited the Italian Renaissance. The reason we have no record is that the next Chinese ruler had exclusionist principles and had all the records of the voyage destroyed.

  21. Sean OLeary says:

    Why not remember (or notice) what the monstrous economic policies of today which promote mass death are achieving in increased death and poverty rates in the Western world?

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