Columbus Day is a time of celebrating and reflecting on the discoveries of Christopher Columbus in the Americas. Giving him all the credit for discovering the new world. In that discovery came “guns, germs and steel,” a heavily regarded term about when Europeans came to the new world, and what they brought with them, including disease, genocide and other forms of violence and violation.
In the 500+ years of history since 1492 — even before the discovery of the New World — there’s been a diverse background of told and untold stories that have affected how we view history today. There’s much history, but only one story is ever told. The story of a white savior and the saving of the “uneducated” and “uncivilized.”
Chimamanda Adichie displays the notion in her 2009 TED Talk, “The Danger of a Single Story,” in which she speaks about the danger of telling a single narrative of the world, including a single narrative of people. In the case of the United States, the single story we tell is beautified, as opposed to the raw, untouched story of the country’s past.
It’s 2019, and it’s time that we stop this narrative. Obviously it won’t be entirely eliminated, but I think it’s time to call out the gibberish.
Oct. 14 will now be known as Indigenous Peoples’ Day (to me and others, hopefully), not Columbus Day. We are going to celebrate and remember the indigenous peoples who were pillaged, raped and killed. They’re still being plundered of the land their ancestors lived on before our lifetimes, even Columbus’ time.
We’re here to celebrate the diminishing culture that indigenous peoples’ are trying to keep alive and present in the modern world. Let’s not forget nor erase them, they do not deserve to be removed … ever.
So, in what ways can we support our indigenous friends? And not just on Indigenous Peoples’ Day? Well, there’s a bunch of ways in which you can, including donations, education and more. I’ll leave the research to you because there’s many ways to help, especially depending on the region of the U.S. you’re in.
However, one of the important things to do is listen. Listen, whether through hearing or reading of the stories of indigenous people. There’s been enough erasure of their cultures and stories, we don’t need to take away or add to it. Simply listen, and honestly, that’s all I can say.
I say this starts with stopping the celebration of Columbus Day. Let’s think about celebrating a single man — a man with flaws and mistakes like every human — but especially to a man who contributed to generations of erasure and genocide. What is there to celebrate? There’s no purpose as to why we need to bring glory to Columbus and his discoveries. I’m not saying remove him out of history textbooks, but take him off the pedestal people put him on. He’s still a part of history, but does he deserve a day of celebration? No, I don’t think so.
Think about the relevancy of Columbus Day and what is truly being celebrated when we speak of him. He didn’t inspire a new era of expedition and exploration, but an era of erasure and exploitation. Personally, I'm affected by his coming to the New World, which was 527 years ago. I know nothing about the past, for all I know my family could have been slaves, immigrants and a small percentage of indigenous. I took a DNA test a few years ago, and my roots are presently in Nigeria, Britain and Ireland — classically from colonialism — with a small percentage of indigenous blood. But, the test still tells me nothing but a story of colonization and cultural retention. And none of this means I’m not proud to be American, but it’s hard to not know who you are in the sense of a cultural and ethnic background. It’s also hard to know your country played a critical role in your generational past. The one question I hate to the ends of the earth is: “What are you?” I don’t know, human!
With rapid globalization, there are new cultures being created from the old which is amazing to see the evolution, but it’s also hard to see the erasure of older cultures. I am sometimes afraid people are forgetting the roots — from foods, clothing styles and more — people are starting to claim something is apart of their own culture when truly it may come from another culture. But that’s a consequence of globalization.
Overall, Columbus Day is a reminder of what was found and much that was lost over a 500-year period. There’s no purpose as to celebrate a single man who helped contribute to the single story we know today, there’s no sense in it.
A few last thoughts: listen, know there’s never a single story and look at the land you stand on. This land belongs to no person or people, but the land is here for all and that we are mere visitors of it. I like to recognize that I don’t even belong on the land. I’ve learned to appreciate the land for what it has given and provided us. We take what we need from the land and in turn, we take care of the land, that’s what I’ve learned from my friends, and my ancestors.
Happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day.