Columbus Day is often celebrated and revered as a momentous event for Europeans and Americans—but are we overlooking the most important details about this historical day?
Christopher Columbus, an Italian explorer, set sail in 1492 in hopes of discovering a faster and more productive route to India for trade. In theory, he wanted to sail westward, eventually landing on the Eastern coast of India. Although he did not reach his final destination in India, he is credited with the discovery of the Americas.
Praised as a hero, Columbus is a significant figure in Italian-American culture.
Several centuries later, the United States government anointed this day as a federal holiday following protests by the Catholic Church and The Knights of Columbus, on behalf of preexisting Italian Americans. From then on, Columbus Day has been a national holiday celebrated on the second Monday of October every year.
Ingrained in society today, the average American only knows the “textbook” story of Columbus but does not take the time to look deeper into the origin of our continent. When we learn about this event in history, are we leaving out other important people?
Firstly, evidence tells us that nearly 500 years before the Italian discoverer, Vikings from the Eriksson family landed in the Americas. Stories of this strange land were spread by word of mouth, and more Vikings followed in the decades to come. Eventually, however, they ended their excursions to the Americas due to the clashes with the indigenous peoples. With this knowledge, can we truly credit Columbus with the first discovery?
On the other hand, Columbus did bring to light the treasures and unique qualities the Americas possess when he returned to Europe. His recollection of vast opportunity in agriculture in this New World set forth an “Age of Discovery” in which many other European countries set sail to colonize and trade with new peoples and port cities.
Secondly, there were already indigenous people living in the Americas when Columbus arrived. Mistakenly, he named these peoples “Indians,” a name that still remains today.
These natives lived completely separate lives from Europeans. Columbus’ arrival introduced a variety of harmful things to the natives. Millions died from disease, others from European weapons and forced labor on sugar cane plantations.
Contrastingly, he also brought certain cattle and horses into the Americas. Horses went on to play a vital role in Plains Native Americans’ lives for decades to come.
In 1977, a handful of states replaced “Columbus Day” with “Indigenous Peoples Day” in order to commemorate natives’ resistance and bravery against European invasion. These states include but are not limited to Alaska, Hawaii, Oregon, and Maine.
On “Indigenous Peoples Day” many natives participate in vigils, rallies, and support local native businesses.
Also called “First People’s Day,” this holiday provides a sense of community and pride among different tribes.
At the end of the day, this holiday is wildly controversial and open to interpretation by each and every individual. So now, how will you view this event in history?