More than saying 'no' to Columbus Day
Editor of the Reformer:
On Oct. 9, 2015, the Reformer ran an opinion piece about saying 'no' to Columbus Day; even if we said 'no' to Columbus Day, what does that really change?
This year, I am teaching early U.S. history and I decided to check out almost all the children's books about Christopher Columbus from Rutland, Bennington, Brooks Memorial Library and other Vermont libraries. My students analyzed the contents of these books. They asked questions like: How many times do the Natives speak? How many times does Columbus speak? Are the natives of Hispaniola (the Tainos) named in the books? Do the books talk about the genocide of the Tainos? Does the reader learn anything about the Tainos? My students learned that all the books were about the brave journey of Columbus. One book mentioned in passing about something bad Columbus and his men did to the Indians. The reader never learns what the Tainos are called, what they are thinking, or how they feel.
Of course Columbus never "discovered" America. The "Americans" or colonists wanted an origin story and a hero. The new "Americans" wanted legitimacy for their new country and Columbus fit the bill. And this Columbus icon transformed into Lady Columbia, the female version of Columbus. She is the white, divine-looking woman holding the bible and floating westward towards the dark savages in John Gast's painting "American Progress." In fact, the Columbus Day holiday was declared in 1892 by President Benjamin Harrison to honor the progress and enlightenment that Columbus brought to "Americans" and no doubt to celebrate taming and civilizing the Native Americans.
Columbus Day endures today just as much as his deadly ideology. My students learned about the attack dogs and savage treatment of Native American protesters in Standing Rock, North Dakota and quickly saw the parallels to Columbus' relationship with the Tainos. "It's like the Dakota Access Pipeline company is bringing progress at the cost of people's lives." Another student said, "Someone profits from the use of the land." Do we need the oil that the Dakota Access Pipeline will provide or is it simply for some to accumulate profit? Columbus stole land and gold from the Tainos. Colonists and "pioneers" stole land and resources from many Native American tribes across the United States. Dakota Access Pipeline is trampling on Native people's land to gain profit. Has the relationship essentially changed? Changing the day to Indigenous People's Day and supplying libraries with children's books that tell the truth are small steps we can take to stand in solidarity with the big steps Native Americans are making in Standing Rock.
Nina Kunimoto, Brattleboro, Oct. 6