If your elementary school was anything like mine, I sang the Columbus song with gusto and naieveté: “In fourteen hundred ninety-two/ Columbus sailed the ocean blue,” alongside all thirty of my smiling, cherubic classmates before we crafted the Mayflower out of construction paper. I remember the patriotism I felt celebrating holidays such as Columbus day. I also thought that the principal of my school was the president too, but that’s nearly irrelevant to this piece.
In the last lines of the storied Columbus Day song are the slightest of nods to the true history we’re not taught in the classroom. “The first American? No, not quite/ But Columbus was brave, and he was bright.” These lines serve as merely one example of the many instances in which the American historical narrative has been euphemized greatly to a degree of undeniable and gross ignorance.
Over 50 American cities, including Denver, have instead decided to celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The change represents our ability as a nation to finally recognize the injustices that our country was founded upon, rather than the romantic mythology that surrounds Christopher Columbus.
I use the term “myth” with full awareness. Supporters of Indigenous Peoples’ Day cite the evidence that “Columbus and his crew were responsible for rapes, murders and the plunder of the Caribbean islands where they landed”. They also say Columbus didn’t “discover” the New World because there were millions of people living in self-sustained communities on the Bahaman islands where he landed. Columbus’s voyage has even less meaning for North Americans than for South Americans because Columbus never set foot on our continent, nor did he open it to European trade.
But, not everyone is willing to admit the false narratives of our history. In Trump’s Columbus Day message released last Friday, he encouraged Americans to “honor the skilled navigator and man of faith, whose courageous feat brought together continents and has inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions. That’s why we’re celebrating Christopher Columbus’s legendary voyage to America with an EXCLUSIVE Columbus Day Sale!” The offer gave 25 percent off on all official Trump merchandise for sale online in honor of the federal holiday.
The Redhawk Native American Arts Council hosted a Re-Thinking Columbus Day event in New York City Monday. Activists marched in an effort for the city to change the name of the annual parade. “If they’re going to celebrate Columbus, we need to celebrate the fact that we survived Columbus,” Cliff Matias, director of the council, told the Associated Press.
Denver has made the choice to honor those who contributed to the creation of the city we call home today. Denver’s City Councilman Paul Lopez told the Denver Post shortly after the holiday was adopted in 2016: “Our city owes our very founding to the indigenous peoples in Denver. We do this because our history books erase such history. You honor it by making it no longer invisible.”
But, the fight for recognition and respect continues today and on the DU campus. The Native Student Alliance (NSA) gathered in Driscoll Bridge today, taking surveys motivated to change DU’s mascot, the pioneer. The survey states “It represents the graphic history of westward expansion, settler colonialism, oppression, genocide and the systematic violent displacement of American Indian people from their lands.”
To support the Native and Indigenous community on campus, join the NSA for a meeting in the Center for Multicultural Excellence at 6:30 p.m. on Thursdays.