Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day?

When most of us think of Columbus Day, we think of two things; A day off from school and…

“In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” 

It’s one of those jingles that sticks, no matter how much we don’t need it anymore. Indeed, Columbus took on a journey that no one believed he’d survive. Western Europeans thought he would undoubtedly lead many men to their watery death. His voyage was courageous indeed and the stories we were told as children paint the picture of a hero. We were lead to believe he was a true pioneer and visionary. The story we were told was full of wonder and whimsy and we ate it up. But as all stories go, there are two sides. They conveniently left out some important details that have since come to light causing some states to revoke, ignore and even rename the day by law. 

Fact 1: Columbus didn’t actually make it to the United States in 1492, he landed in the Bahamas & what is now known as Cuba. 

Fact 2: He was not the first to discover the Americas. Conveniently, they discounted the thousands of natives who inhabited what is now known as the United States for hundreds of years prior. 

Fact 3: The first European credited on record for reaching North America was Lief Eriksson who’d made it to Canada nearly 500 years before! Again, for some reason, it didn’t count so American history books conveniently ignore this and continue to teach us that Columbus is the “real deal.” 

Fact 4: Columbus was not simply an explorer. It’s true he set out to find new lands; though his intent was much more than curiosity. He was involved in an agreement with the Spanish that included a promise of riches based on what he found. Quest vs. Conquest entail much different motivations. 

Fact 5: Perhaps the most disturbing omission of the tale we were told about Columbus is that he was known for enslaving and even torturing the indigenous people he first encountered. The discrepancy in weapons were too big for the native people to overcome. He routinely invaded villages with the promise of trade for goods that quickly turned into tyranny. 

Yes, the story we were told was so much more endearing and appealing to the young mind. We felt connected to the story and proud of what Columbus accomplished on his journey. Today, there are states and cities that have officially renamed the day, Indigenious People’s Day in an effort to acknowledge the true first settlers of the Americas. But no matter what we do, that little tune will forever be with us; “In 1492, Columbus sailed…”

What are the stories of your family members who first came to America? Do you know them? Is there any relative that does? Storytelling has a way of being bent and twisted and turned over the years. Capture it now, so it can be remembered the right way later.

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