There is a movement across the country to re-appropriate Columbus Day as a Native American Heritage Day or Indigenous Peoples Day. Cities like Seattle, Minneapolis, St. Paul, and others have begun this trend, and I am sure other municipalities will soon follow. However, as a native man, I am wary of such actions. Please don’t get me wrong. I am all for honoring the native peoples and Indigenous hosts of Turtle Island, but I am hesitant to do so on October 12.
You CANNOT discover lands that are already inhabited. But that is exactly what Christopher Columbus, the nations of Europe, early American colonists, and the United States of America purported to do.
I am often invited to speak on this topic, and, to demonstrate my point, I ask members of the audience to put their wallets, money clips, smart phones, or purses out in front of them, so that I may walk by and “discover” these items.
The idea that Christopher Columbus “discovered” America is a racist colonial concept that assumes the dehumanization of native peoples.
Some Americans are becoming increasingly uncomfortable with the idea of celebrating Columbus Day. However, when you are a citizen of a nation that believes in its own exceptionalism, you can only celebrate. There is no room for mourning and admitting the fact that you, and your founding fathers, were wrong. But that is exactly what the United States needs to do.
Schools in Germany are required to teach the holocaust, so that they will never repeat it. If America does not keep its unjust history in front of itself, it will never learn, never grow, and never mature. If America merely replaces the celebration of its racist roots of discovery with another celebration, it is destined to repeat its failures.
So I propose that we keep October 12 as Columbus Day but turn it into a day of honest education, deep reflection, and national mourning. A day to remind ourselves that October 12, 1492 was the first day of 500 years of dehumanization, theft, war, genocide and even extinction for countless tribes, languages, cultures, and for millions and millions of people. This was a day when the nations of Europe, colonists, and the United States of America got it wrong.