Eugene Cho

should we re-consider columbus day?

I’ve had many intense conversations about the federal recognition of ‘Columbus Day.’

And was reminded again of these issues with this video below and this Sojo post from “Rev. Dr. Randy Woodley is a Keetoowah Cherokee Indian descendent and the author of Living in Color: Embracing God’s Passion for Ethnic Diversity. He teaches history, theology, and culture at George Fox Evangelical Seminary in Portland, Oregon.”

But I’d love to hear from you:

What do you think about re-considering Columbus Day?

One thing that’s certain for me is that the treatment of the Native Indians is one of the most egregious atrocities committed by several countries including the United States.  Folks can argue about what whether we should honor Columbus Day or not but we ought to give a more balanced historical perspective on his life and “discovery” of America but we should ALL agree we need to do more to honor and celebrate the stories of the Indigenous People of the Americas.

Like who knew that Native American Day was Sept. 4? Raise your hands.

Here’s the video:

And Randy’s post on Sojo:

From the journal of Christopher Columbus:

In all the world, there is no better people nor better country. They love their neighbors as themselves, and they have the sweetest talk in the world, and are gentle and are always laughing.

They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. They willingly traded everything they owned … They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance … They would make fine servants … With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

As an explorer, Columbus was not the first to reach the Western Hemisphere. Native Americans had been here for 10,000-20,000 years, and Vikings and Chinese are among those others who hold prior claims. Even after four attempts, Columbus never realized his goal of finding a western ocean route to Asia. As a “founding father type figure” he never set foot in what is now considered America but landed in the present day Bahamas, Cuba, and Haiti. As a Christian example he enacted terrible cruelties to friendly natives: assuming unlawful rights of authority; robbing and subjugating whole nations of their freedom and entire capital; allowing his men to rape, murder and pillage at will; and deliberately leading the way for the genocide of millions, considered by many to be the worst demographic catastrophe in recorded history.

So why do Americans celebrate Columbus Day?

Perhaps it is because this holiday is foundational to establishing the American myth that Western European exploration, technology, science, governance, religion, etc. are all superior to the cultural contributions of the rest of the world — but that is just not true.

For example, prior to European contact, great civilizations thrived in America with unparalleled techniques in urban planning, micro-agriculture, macro-environmental management (including ecology, xeriscape, agronomy, botany, forestry, and raised bed, naturally fertilized gardening), sustainable architecture (including passive solar heating), psychology, philosophy, religion, ethics, science, math, medicine (including brain surgery and dentistry), government, language, education, rhetoric, intercontinental economic trade, successful peacemaking, etc. Most Americans have little correct knowledge of Ancient American civilizations.

If you think large cities are a mark of ascendancy (and I don’t), then consider the fact that Cahokia (East St. Louis) was one of the largest urban centers in the world in its day, (apex circa 1200 A.D.). The city of Cahokia had in excess of 15,000 residents with numerous suburbs and agricultural centers creating a total urban population of more than 40,000 residents. It was only surpassed in size in America in 1800 C.E. by Philadelphia, PA.

The point is not whose “stuff” is the best but rather why can’t we celebrate it all without pulling from despicable despots of the past like Columbus? Euro-Americans landed in America. The accomplishments of the people who were here prior to their arrival should be celebrated and memorialized along with those who came here later. If Woody Guthrie was right, “this land was made for you and me.” Why can’t we share it together? This includes all of our history and all of our accomplishments. We have begun to do this with other ethnic groups. For example, many non-African Americans are now proud to celebrate the fame of Jackie Robinson. American sports fans everywhere take pride in Robinson’s entrance into a formerly segregated sport — which led the way for other African-American athletes.

When Americans continue to celebrate Columbus Day we do damage — not just to Native America but to all Americans. Jews will never celebrate the rise of the Third Reich. Ugandans will not likely hail the legacy of Idi Amin, Cambodia and the Khmer Rouge Regime, et. al. This Columbus Day, let’s see Columbus for what he was and begin to celebrate new legacies of the past that better represent where we want to be as an America of the future. Maybe by next year we will be officially celebrating a pre-Columbus day!

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27 Responses

  1. Jim says:

    i’ve NEVER had Columbus Day off…even now as I am self-employed…plus my peeps came from Scotland in 1865…all i know is that the bank/post office is closed…please people…find another worthy cause? like poverty, slavery, clean water…

  2. elderj says:

    I agree with Randy whom I claim without disclaimer to be a friend of mine.

  3. Mat says:

    One complicating factor is how the Italian-American community views the holiday, and thus Columbus himself. Can we recognize the pain of Native Americans and the reality that Columbus himself was not a saint, while giving recognition to Italian and Catholic immigrant communities that have suffered to become part of America as well? In the Northeast this tension is most felt, where traditional Catholic beliefs and values that hold the social fabric are ever more besieged by secularism. This is a difficult challenge.

  4. […] should we re-consider columbus day? « eugene cho eugenecho.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/should-we-re-consider-columbus-day – view page – cached I’ve had many an intense conversations about the federal recognition of ‘Columbus Day.’ — From the page […]

  5. Kandis Reyes says:

    Thanks for your post; it hit on important points. As a Native American, I’m sad our country still celebrates Columbus despite the atrocities he committed. Hopefully our country will move to being more culturally aware and sensitive, and move away from the mythology of the “discovery” of America. We are a strong people who will continue to overcome blatant racism such as the celebration of Columbus to the use of “Indians” as a sports mascot.

  6. Mike Licht says:

    Today is “Native American Day” in South Dakota.

    Discovered: New painting of Columbus.

    See: http://notionscapital.wordpress.com/2009/10/12/columbus-day/

  7. Daniel Azuma says:

    Eugene: while I agree in principle, I must also second Mat’s point. The privileges we enjoy in this country are built not only at the expense of the native cultures, but also on the backs of many immigrant communities. Native Americans, without denying the injustices of history, have also benefitted from modern political correctness; those immigrant communities are nearly invisible to us by comparison.

    Chris Columbus may perhaps not be the best historical banner and role model, but can we remember the history and original purpose of the holiday, and perhaps seek for an improvement or replacement rather than a destruction of the tradition.

  8. danderson says:

    As a public school teacher, I don’t find the celebration of Columbus Day particularly appealing. (Our school district does not take the day off). I think it important to give children a balanced perspective, particularly given the fact that more than half my class is Latino. OTOH, I think a close examination of native cultures would in itself reveal some atrocities committed. The Aztecs were a very vicious group. And there were a lot of turf battles in this land among Native tribes. So, perhaps a proper perspective — but one hard to teach in a public school — is that we have all sinned and fallen short of God’s purposes, and that we are all in need of redemption: White, Native, Black, Asian, Latino, and every other group.

  9. We haven’t “celebrated” Columbus Day in years. Mostly it’s a calendar hold-over from a bygone era — something which the feds keep around in their quirky system because of past labor negotiations. (If you want to get it off the calendar get the unions on your side.) But really, it’s a non-issue. What could be more humiliating than to have a holiday in your honor based on a myth which most people don’t believe — and which most people except banks and bloggers ignore?

  10. Ben says:

    I completely agree that we need to honor and celebrate the indigenous peoples of our country. One way is through preservation of language. If anyone has an hour sometime (I listened to this whilst I cleaned my apartment) why not take a listen to NPR’s “Speaking of Faith” series on the Ojibwe people and language? We may see what Columbus et al. destroyed, and what we will lose if we don’t honor native people properly.

    http://speakingoffaith.publicradio.org/programs/2009/language-and-meaning/

  11. Don Bryant says:

    Thanks for the post. I do agree that we should honor indigenous peoples. But this kind of discussion prompts me to recommend Rodney Stark’s (Baylor), “The Victory of Reason: How Christianity Led to Freedom, Capitalism, and Western Success.” I continue to be a fan of the West without believing that this compels me to deny all the good and all the decent that is manifested in all by common grace. By the way, Stark’s The Discovery of God throws light on this discussion as well.

  12. Mick says:

    One of my favorite episodes of The Sopranos is when the The native American Protestors picketed a Columbus Days Prade . Just the whole issue appeared so funny .

    The day we stop celebarting the bravery and undertaking of Columbus is the same day we hopefully will be able to admit that the culture and humanisy here was quite unworthy of any kind of positive folkl;ore . For one fact, despte thousands and THOUSANDS of years of advancement in use of mentals and such , the natives here swere using stones . They were still eating one another , raping and slaving their weaker neibors . Quite disgusting , the movie Dances with Wolves is one of my favorites , it ranks right up there with they Dies With Their Boots On is factual historical context . That tibe depeiced as frienddly and humansistic wa savage and brutal to their own mebers , not even to mention their enemies who were many .

    The need for all people to understand their rebellion is needed , not just ther nasty Americans to the nature loving Indians . Its baloney . We all need God , and we all were quite underserving of HIS mercy .

    Get a life Cho . Grow up .

  13. Andy M says:

    What bothers me is that in school we teach our children all kinds of things about our history as a nation, from Columbus to the present day, that implies that these people were pure heroes with no faults. After growing up and beginning to learn about the atrocities, and/or just bad things, done by some of the people that we were taught to admire in gradeschool, it makes me more likely to be disallusioned with our country than if they’d have just told the truth in the first place.

    I think this has happened in the church too. I remember being taught about Samson and how he was a hero. But the truth of it is that Samson was gifted greatly by God, but broke every command that God gave him, slaughtering thousands of people in an escalating cycle of violence. Maybe when we turn our bible stories into nice little children’s tales, we are doing more damage than if we treated those stories for what they are, pretty or ugly, good or bad.

    @Mick,
    That has to be balanced with a fair criticism of the brutality and barbarousness of the Europeans who conquered. They may have been more “civilized” but they were just as, if not more brutal than the natives. And you have to keep in mind, that just like all peoples around the world there are some that are more peaceable than others, and some more brutal than others. The natives of America were the same. Not all of them were cannibals, I’m not even sure if most of them were. You cannot brand either than natives, or the conquerers as the “good” guys or “bad” guys. But it has to be said that it was not the natives who enslaved an entire people group.

  14. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Jacob Stevens and Pat Loughery, Pat Loughery. Pat Loughery said: @paullu Ahh, must saw that a friend wrote this: http://bit.ly/9FU9G3 […]

  15. ethnicspace says:

    Wow! Eugene, thanks for the re-post and for considering these things.

    Disappointing though, in some of these replies I think I’ve heard most of the stereotypical responses used to deflect the point that people usually make about Native Americans. Education is desperately needed in America concerning our own history.

    Randy

  16. Tony Lin says:

    I teach my kids on all of these issues. Today my daughter went to school and told her teacher “Columbus was a bad guy. He killed a lot of people.”

  17. Bo says:

    I really appreciate you giving attention to the vital issue. I just don’t think that it is a topic that we can afford to ignore.
    There is something essential that sits behind this facade of ‘holiday’. Continuing this tradition perpetuates a sinister mythology that – if you believe in God – needs to be dragged into the light of truth.

    Thank you for posting this.

  18. Art says:

    Are you kidding? Does everything have to a cause with you?

  19. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Eugene Cho, Anthony, Corey LeCureux, Corey LeCureux, Mike Mirza and others. Mike Mirza said: RT @EugeneCho: Columbus Day has passed. But we now have 364 days to reconsider the injustice of it all: http://bit.ly/cutSxP […]

  20. Doug says:

    He writes…As a Christian example he enacted terrible cruelties to friendly natives: Why the bash at Christians? What made him Christian? Wasn’t he doing all these things as an Italian citizen under the flag and payment from Spain in order to colonize and subjugate people? Why does the writer feel the need to slam Christianity in the process when none of his actions were those of a follower of Jesus?

    • Andy M says:

      Why deny the fact that Columbus, and most other European explorers, were declared Christians? It isn’t a slam against Christianity, it is an acceptance of the fact that Columbus was driven by his understanding of Christian beliefs. He even wrote a book of Prophecies which interpreted his career as an explorer in light of Christian eschatology and apocalypticism. You cannot separate his religious life from his actions as an explorer. Was he truly in relationship with God, with Christ? I don’t know, but his religion was Christianity, and Christian theology of the time, good or bad, informed his actions.

      Christians should not look at past Christians and claim that they were not Christians just because they did something bad. We need to accept it for what it was, and make amends for the wrongs done, whether we had anything to do with it or not.

  21. Andrew Blair says:

    I think Columbus day is stupid. No one gets it off. He discovered the Americas, where people already were. I think it would be better to be explorers day. Then celebrate all the explores through history of all cultures. I think that would also be beneficial for children to then look at people who went to the moon, climbed everest, and so on.

    I also believe we need a federal holiday at least every month. American life needs more celebration and BBQs.

    March – Peace Day (peace corps created with executive order March 1st) (celebrate those who served in the peace corps, also treaties that ended wars, and strive for peace among nations)

    April – either Earth Day or day after Tax Day should be a federal holiday that everyone gets off.

    June – June Gloom weekend? I don’t have a good idea for this month

    August – Nuclear Weekend (people need to remember what happened at Hiroshima and Nagasaki so we make sure that never happens again, more of a solemn reminder than a time to celebrate. But something that is very important to teach every generation about)

  22. marissaburt says:

    I really enjoyed Randy’s post. Food for thought. Thanks for posting this.

  23. rita hernandez says:

    Thats deep. I truly think your right.maybe some day things will realy come to the light

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