Columbus Day debate distracts from ways to actually help natives

Parul Kumar, editor-in-chief

October 9 is Christopher Columbus Day, a date celebrated by thousands of schools across America. This year, the BG school year places a school day on the divisive holiday.2

The choice was not political at all and just really numbers,” calendar committee member Sindi Smith said. “We didn’t want the amount of school days off by more than ten days and with institute days, something had to go and that ended up being Columbus Day.”

While the choice of having school on Columbus Day was free of politics, confusion about the decision to have the holiday be a school day conglomerated into hallway chatter.

“We don’t have to take Columbus Day off,” Smith said. “A lot of people with kids or friends with the day off complained on Tuesday, but it was just a question of what days are more or less important.”

Columbus Day is not just a day off or on, however. The arguments surrounding Columbus Day are tangled with historical misleadings starting from an elementary level. Students initially learn about the European explorer through rhymes like “In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” These rhymes are not representative of the actuality of history, which is far more complex than Columbus just coming to America.

“There is a lot of misinformation about Columbus,” history teacher Michael DiMatteo said. “Several of his journals point to him not even knowing that he found the New World, it wasn’t a conscious find.”

While Columbus introduced America to Europe for the first time on a global scale, his arrival and that of several other colonizers to the New World also severely impacted Native American populations.

“It doesn’t make sense for the United States to celebrate a man who did not discover our nation,” junior Sydney Sandler said. “He sparked the deaths of 90% of Native Americans and didn’t realize America was not Asia at first.”

In 1492, Christopher Columbus and his men discovered America on a global scale, though Leif Eriksson discovered America years earlier, Columbus was the first to connect the Western and New World. Only a few years later, Native American populations shrunk by 90% according to National Geographic. While more and more schools have decided to not include Columbus Day in the list of holidays celebrated by the school or even replace the day with “Indigenous People’s Day” such as LA did, these efforts do not truly rectify the damage made by colonization.

Instead these days only benefit non-Native Americans, who may excuse themselves from their ancestor’s actions through doing the bare minimum of understanding that Columbus killed Natives.

Though some of it may have not been conscientious, his actions set a precedent for the treatment of Native American throughout history by the US Government even today via the government’s lack of action to protect Natives from alcoholism and low rates of graduation on reservations. The complex history Native Americans is not understood through just thinking Columbus is bad, but understanding why people may think that.

In the years following European colonization, over 95% of Native American populations had died from Eurasian diseases. Today, Native Americans only make up two percent of the total US population. This almost decimation of Native populations is not something that a simple apology or day off can actually reverse, and instead needs proper acknowledgement and action.

To actually help Native American populations, students can donate directly to tribes through groups such as the Native American Heritage Association, buy products from stores run by actual Natives such as Moonstone Creation and learn and discuss Native American issues and stories beyond just thinking “Columbus is bad.” While only a small percentage of the population today is Native American, they still exist.

The education of Native American issues can begin at a classroom level alongside the stories of Columbus and colonization. At BG, students are taught the history of Native Americans in World History and US History classes through unbiased discussion which includes both how Natives suffered and how we have benefitted in modern society through colonization. Both narratives are equally important to fully understand the history of which America has been founded.

“Christopher Columbus was the person who brought America to the western world, for all intents and purposes,” DiMatteo said. “A study on morality cannot change history through a revisionist point of view.”

The moral lens of today cannot shift to the perspectives of Columbus and his voyagers or any other period in time to accurately gauge history, but it can be used to fuel a reaction. While thousands of students and schools have decided not to celebrate Columbus Day, students should take their own steps and actively do something about it.

“Although we can never repay the lives that the colonists took from the Native Americans, we owe them that recognition, honor and apology,” Sadler said.