Since 1937, Columbus Day has been celebrated nationally in the United States. But in recent decades, Native American organizations and other activist groups have called the holiday into question. Christopher Columbus was no hero, they say, but a slave trader who ended life for indigenous peoples as they knew it by setting up the first European colony in the Americas, sexually exploiting Native women and girls as young as nine years old and raping the land of natural resources such as the gold he lavished upon King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. Columbus reportedly forced the Native peoples he encountered-- Tainos, Arawaks, Lucayans--to secure gold for him or be tortured. Because of the barbarous way Columbus treated indigenous peoples as well as the diseases his European crew introduced to the New World, the indigenous population in the Bahamas was cut in half within two years of Columbus disembarking there in 1492.
Given the devastating impact Columbus had on Native Americans, it's no wonder that the American Indian Movement (AIM) issued a statement arguing that the organization views the explorer much like Jews regard Adolf Hitler.
Glenn Morris of AIM's Colorado branch remarked on radio program "Democracy Now!" that Columbus Day "exists in part to advance a national ideology of celebrating invasion, conquest and colonialism." Therefore, he argued, Columbus should not be remembered as a hero. "We believe that Columbus as a national icon is a mistake and sends certainly the wrong message to schoolchildren about what is heroic about the history of this hemisphere," Morris continued. "Certainly, the heroism of Columbus does not warrant a national holiday. In fact, he wasn't a hero. He was a slave-trading Indian killer."
It's unlikely that the U.S. government will end observance of Columbus Day in the near future, but that doesn't mean that the truth about Columbus and his impact should be swept under the rug. Schoolchildren can be taught (in an age appropriate manner, of course) about the atrocities America's indigenous peoples endured at the hands of Columbus and his men. Government officials and community members who participate in Columbus Day parades and festivals can take a moment to remember those who lost their way of life once Columbus landed in the New World. City and state governments can choose to set aside a day to honor Native peoples. The movement to transform Columbus Day shows no signs of slowing down.