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Why Native Americans Do Not Celebrate Columbus Day

Columbus landing on Hispaniola, Dec. 6, 1492; ...

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Unless one has lived under a rock for their entire life, we have all heard of Christopher Columbus. In every grade school history book are recounting of how “in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” He is accredited with founding the new world, in an attempt to find a western trade route to Asia. He has been afforded commemorative statues and monuments, as well as having many American cities named after him. What we don’t often hear or read about is that he created a legacy of enslavement and brutality that would last for centuries. It was Columbus who would lead the way for a hemispheric annihilation of civilizations that were here thousands of years prior to his first voyage to the “new world.”

When Columbus landed in the Bahamas in October of 1492, he mistook the region of the Caribbean as the orient. He thought the island of Cuba was Asia, and the island that now contains Haiti and the Dominican Republic, named Hispaniola, as an island off the coast of China. Armed with a generous contract of retaining 10% of any and all profits, as well as governorship of any new found lands, the former merchants clerk from Genoa would earn himself the moniker of “Admiral of the ocean sea (Atlantic ocean),” a title he negotiated with the King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella in return for his expeditions. When Columbus entered the Bahamas after 33 days at sea, his first native encounter was with the Arawak Indians, many of whom swam out to the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria to greet him. The Arawaks, a hospitable culture, were friendly to Columbus and his crew, but Columbus could only focus on one thing; he fixated on the tiny pieces of gold that the Arawaks used to adorn their ears.

Columbus kidnapped many of the Arawaks in order to lead him to more gold. They sailed to Cuba, and then to Hispaniola, where flakes of gold were visible in the rivers, and the tribal chieftain presented to Columbus a mask of gold. It was on Hispaniola that the first European military base in the Western Hemisphere was built. After completion of Fort Navidad, Columbus left for the Azores and then Spain leaving behind 39 crew members to find and store gold. During his second voyage of late 1493, he returned to Hispaniola to find that all 39 crewmen were killed by the natives, in response to the crewmen capturing women and children and using them for sex and labor. As a result, Columbus decreed that any native 14 or older must collect established amounts of gold every three months. Each native who abided received a bracelet of copper tokens, those who were not wearing these bracelets had their hands cut off, and bled to death. Those who ran away were hunted and killed.

While the Arawaks did try to fight back, it was futile. The Spaniards were armed with muskets and swords, and rode horses. The Arawaks were virtually helpless against them. After several massacres at the hands of Columbus and the Spaniards, the Arawaks turned to another strategy: Mass Suicide. Within 2 years, half of the 250,000 indigenous people were dead by suicide, small pox, massacres, or hard labor. By 1515, there were 50, 000 natives left; by 1550 there were 500; by 1650, the indigenous people of the Caribbean were completely gone.

The brutality of Columbus and his crews would set the pace of exploration and colonization in the Western Hemisphere; after Columbus came Cortez who wiped out the Aztecs of Mexico. After Cortez, there was Pizzaro who eliminated the Incas of Peru. After Pizarro came the English and French; more so the first British settlers of Virginia and Massachusetts, who set the tone by eliminating the Powhatan and Pequot respectively.

The first recorded encounter with Native Americans and the British was in 1585, when Richard Grenville landed in Virginia, after a few friendly exchanges with the Powhatan Indians; Grenville sacked and burned their villages, when it was thought a member of the tribe stole a small silver cup. In 1610 Jamestown, the British settlers overtook a Powhatan settlement, killing several while kidnapping their queen and her children: The children were shot and drowned while the queen, who was later stabbed to death, was forced to watch. The earliest American dreams were begat from nightmares of blood and anguish.

At the time of Columbus’s landing in the Bahamas there were an estimated 10 million natives north of Mexico. While Columbus and his crew may have taken care of the first 125,000, it was the combined efforts of the European nations that would reduce the native population to under a million in the present day. Through slavery, murder, disease, displacement, and assimilation, a densely populated North America was stripped of entire civilizations that were egalitarian, cultured, and thriving. A European culture which was blood thirsting for wealth and land was, willing to thoroughly dispose of tens of millions of beautiful indigenous people.

Tell me again; who were the savages?

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  1. July 14, 2011 at 7:21 pm

    Excellent post. I learned from it. Even though I thought I knew the details, I had forgotten most of them.
    One of my favorite Historical Fiction films is “The Mission” with Robert Deniro and Jeremy Irons. It is set in South America, but of course, the end result was similar.

    One thought I had. I wonder how history would read today if the “discovered” tribes had not been so friendly. The end result would be the same, I suppose.

    Like

    • July 15, 2011 at 7:15 am

      I think you’re right; the end result probably would be the same, it may have taken longer though. It would be interesting to put together a historical model leveling the playing field. Give the indigenous Americans large domesticated animals and the same technological advancements, and who knows how it would have all played out.

      Like

  2. July 15, 2011 at 12:32 pm

    I went to the Dominican Republic. I’m into colonial history. I went to a museum, and learned about the Tainos. They had the graph of the dwindling population. At one point, I asked the museum guide if I was reading it right. Yup. Eventually, the population of Tainos reached zero.

    If I were Native American, I think Columbus Day would be a reminder of their colonists. Those Europeans who came with their pox-infected blankets hell bent on taking their land. Not exactly happy party material.

    Like

    • July 15, 2011 at 1:15 pm

      You’re absolutely right about the Taino; in fact it was they, and not the Arawaks who killed the 39 crew members that Columbus left behind. I had forgotten to state that in my post. There were 4 main types of native Americans that inhabited the Caribbean when Columbus landed: The Carib,the Leeward, the Taino,and the Arawak. While the Arawak and Taino were thought to be the same, they are not, although they do share common descendants from the Amazon Basin.

      On Fri Jul 15th, 2011 12:32 PM EDT

      Like

  1. July 14, 2011 at 4:28 pm
  2. July 16, 2011 at 7:43 pm

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