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LETTER: Indigenous Peoples Day is just a starting place



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IU students celebrate Indiana’s first Indigenous Peoples Day on Oct. 8. The Indigenous Peoples Day march started at 5:30 p.m. in Dunn Meadow. Alex Deryn Buy Photos

Columbus never set foot in North America, he was not the first voyager to make it across the Atlantic Ocean from Europe, and he was not the one to discover the world was round. 

While Christopher Columbus was an ambitious explorer, he is not a historical figure to be idolized. His actions in the Western Hemisphere were unconscionable.

Columbus’s journals detail chilling accounts of acts committed upon the Caribbean natives far beyond what people in the United States would consider excusable today. Over four journeys to the Caribbean, the atrocities increased to the level of frequent rape and murder. 

His third voyage included actions so appalling that a royal commissioner arrested him and shipped him back to Spain (where King Ferdinand pardoned him and supported a fourth voyage).

A papal bull, a declaration by the pope, from the Catholic Church in 1455 gave a ‘discovering’ country ‘ownership’ of any land not occupied by Christians, and the right to subjugate any non-Christian people. 

The term ‘discover’ often means learning something new to mankind, but since there were millions of people already in the Americas, the use of this term implies that Columbus, as a European, was more valid as a person than the people already here, and his culture more valid than the hundreds of cultures existing on these continents for thousands of years. 

Celebrating him through a dedicated day, statues and other memorials sanitizes his many violent and exploitative actions and sanitizes the history of colonialism, exploitation, forced removal and structural genocide that followed him to this hemisphere. 

How is it acceptable to commemorate and honor this with a federally recognized holiday?

Celebration of Indigenous Peoples Day is not an end goal, but a good place to start in dialogue between those of settler descent and those of native descent. We must move towards tangible goals, like repatriation of land, sacred objects, children and graves. Those of settler descent must also learn the traumatic true histories of this country. Let us move towards truth and conciliation.

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