By ARIANA APOSTOL-DOOLEY
Columbus Day, a national holiday since 1937, celebrates the Spanish explorer Christopher Columbus for his “discovery” of the Americas in 1492 and the consequent beginnings of Western civilization in what would become the United States. While the idea of celebrating what was virtually the start of the U.S. may sound appealing, the reality of what Columbus did is not quite so admirable.
One of the most major misconceptions about Columbus is actually the main reason that he has a federal holiday dedicated to him. Children around the country learn from a young age that Columbus was the first to discover America. However, this is far from the truth. When Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas, native peoples were already living there, and Vikings had explored Canada before Columbus was even born. Furthermore, according to The Washington Post, Columbus never even set foot in North America itself; instead, he explored the present-day Caribbean Islands, Bahamas and South America. If Columbus was not actually responsible for the discovery that earned him a day of recognition, no valid reason exists to keep honoring his holiday.
Columbus’s actions also compound the negative stigma already attached to the cruel disregard of native people by European explorers. According to the History Channel, Columbus had a reputation for acting as a harsh governor of the lands that he conquered; he forced natives into slavery, made them convert to Christianity and exposed them to European diseases. Columbus demonstrated such violence and hostility that Spanish citizens accused him of extreme brutality, and King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella, the rulers of Spain, actually forced him back to Europe before his expedition ended. Columbus mainly aimed to attain wealth and convert people to Christianity to please the monarchs, and lacked any concern for what he had to do to get what he wanted.
Rather than continue celebrating a holiday for a greedy and cruel explorer who did not actually make the discovery that he is credited with, Americans should replace Columbus Day with a day celebrating indigenous peoples. According to TIME, states such as South Dakota and Alaska and several cities including Seattle and Portland have already voted to replace Columbus Day with a Native American or Indigenous Peoples’ Day. A day like this would remind Americans about the native cultures and societies that were established in the Americas before Columbus.
The United States does not need to glorify someone who may have done more harm than good when natives deserve a day of their own to be recognized and embraced.