We need to give indigenous people the respect they deserve
Christopher Columbus should not be celebrated, and that’s not a matter of debate.
I am currently sitting on colonized Haudenosaunee land.
And you might be too.
America’s history of colonization is exhaustive and –– conveniently –– whitewashed in the public education system.
On Monday, many Americans celebrated one of our nation’s most infamous colonizers, and they shouldn’t have.
Columbus was not the first to encounter indigenous communities, but his arrival is renowned for changing the course of history and marking the systematic demise of a population that flourished for at least 12,000 years. The written history of this comes from one main source –– Columbus’ personal diary, his documentation of the wonders of the “new world,” which he gave to his patrons, King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain when he returned home.
This romanticization of history is one-sided and was written with a purpose –– to impress the monarchs enough to convince them to bankroll Columbus’ next voyage.
From the moment he stepped foot in the Americas, Columbus was ready to claim his newfound territory, even if it meant taking advantage of his newfound “friends.”
In his mind, Columbus was bringing “religion” to “a race of people very poor in everything.” Or at least that’s what he wrote in his journal on October 12, 1492.
He went further to say, the natives “should be good servants and intelligent, for I observed that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion.”
Columbus proceeds to explain his plans to take six natives back to Spain as slaves for Queen Isabella I. This diary entry clearly implies he believed indigenous people were less than him, allowing him to justify their enslavement.
Columbus’ presence in the Americas was detrimental to indigenous populations.
Yes, Europeans bringing over smallpox and the diseases of the Old World definitely played a part in the deaths of America’s native population.
But so did the violence, rape and systemic genocide that Columbus, along with other high-ranking European officials, inflicted upon the natives.
Columbus never even intended to seek new land. The whole “adventure” was much less the brainchild of an avid explorer looking to discover the world and much more a cruel twist of fate mixed with a lot of bad math.
And Columbus’ grand mistake –– along with his misidentification of natives as “Indians” –– continues to affect indigenous people’s lives right here and right now.
Buffalo has its own history of colonization, with the French settling in the Buffalo Creek area –– on land which Haudenosaunee people already inhabited –– in 1758. According to Partnership for the Public Good, many indigenous people in Buffalo were forced out of their land, onto small reservations or even out of state, through the treaties of Buffalo Creek.
Colonization is real and it happened right here and it’s time we started acknowledging our problematic past rather than remaining willfully ignorant for the sake of nostalgia.
Columbus’ actions led to the genocide of millions of Native Americans, and claiming they didn’t is revisionism at best, and ignorance at the very least.
We still have not adequately acknowledged America’s history of colonization, and we continue to take land from indigenous communities to this day. But natives’ history isn’t just a chapter in eighth grade history books, and the past still affects people’s lives right now.
In order to defend America’s racist history, we first need to acknowledge the real, documented instances of racism and violence in our past.
Next year, Indigenous Peoples' Day falls on Oct. 12, the anniversary of Columbus’ aforementioned journal entry. I hope we utilize this anniversary to accurately recall the story of Christopher Columbus, and that we work to honor the lives of natives rather than the racist’s.
Jacklyn Walters is the managing editor and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and @JacklynAWalters.