The Columbia University Native American Council objects to the views expressed in the recently published article, “Two different celebrations mark Columbus Day.”
The original and current position of the Native American Council is to raise awareness about the negative implications of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas—the decimation and systematic enslavement and oppression of the Native populations of North and South America (estimated between 90 and 112 million before contact by the historian Henry Dobyns and reduced to 230,000 in the 1900 United States Census), and the proliferation of the slave trade (which enslaved 10-15 million Africans from 1500-1888). Furthermore, the Native American Council takes the stance that the true nature of this history should be acknowledged by an Indigenous People’s Holiday (Indigenous Peoples Day) on the second Monday of October, which would replace Columbus Day.
As Native Americans, we are an inherently political group. We are not governed by party lines but by an everyday awareness of over 500 years of oppression that began with Columbus and that is perpetuated by the ignorance and complacency of men and women who call our ancient territories “home,” yet fail to acknowledge the sacrifice and suffering of the original guardians of this land and their African brethren upon which this nation was built. It is for this reason that the Native American Council has decided to respond to the opinions expressed by the Columbia University College Republicans.
CUCR members claimed that Columbus played “an integral role in what our country is today,” and that his discoveries marked “the birth of America.” Yet beyond his accidental discovery of the Americas—which was the result of miscalculation, luck, and significant funding from the king of Spain—Columbus had very little to do with the birth of our country. In any balanced account, Columbus was an agent of colonialism and the old autocratic system in Europe. These ideas and systems were rejected by our founding fathers in the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution, and they continue to stand at odds with the American values of democracy, liberty, and equal opportunity. Why any person intent on celebrating America—a country whose history is filled with citizens who have made meaningful contributions to mankind through brilliance rather than miscalculation—would want to embrace such a man with a holiday is confusing.
Officers quoted from CUCR have gone as far as to say that Native Americans “wouldn’t be able to protest these things if Columbus didn’t come to begin with,” calling our push for a wholesome understanding of Columbus and his legacy “ridiculous.” To this, we must concede that CUCR is absolutely correct in stating that Native Americans would not be protesting the history of ethnic cleansing and slavery had Columbus not arrived and made these into our reality. However, we hope that our classmates in CUCR would, as Columbia students and compassionate human beings, demonstrate a more complete and nuanced understanding of their history.
The Native American Council wants Columbus’ actions to be remembered, but these actions go beyond the discovery of America and should include the depopulation and extermination of Native Americans, enslavement of Africans, and perpetuation of the colonial and post-colonial economic systems that are the sources of injustice throughout the world today. We are not telling people that they shouldn’t celebrate Columbus Day—we just want them to be aware of the choice they are making when they have a barbecue in his name.
The Native American Council urges members of the Columbia community and beyond who recognize the injustice of Columbus to stand with us in solidarity against ignorance.
The author is a Columbia College first-year and is a member of the Columbia University Native American Council.