Cities across the United States and Canada are finally starting to wake up to the damage wrought by Columbus’ expedition, acknowledging why it’s wrong to blindly worship a man for essentially jump-starting the systemic extermination of two continents worth of indigenous societies. Several of these cities have begun to institute Indigenous Peoples’ Day in its place. And that’s a step in the right direction.
But we can’t just change the name of the holiday if we aren’t also addressing Columbus Day’s de facto erasure of Native American history.
Beyond cursory examinations of the Inca, the Maya, and the Aztecs, students in North America are generally taught hemispheric history from 1492 onward. Rarely do we see social studies curricula spend much time on the fascinating exploits of the Olmec, the mound-building practices of Poverty Point culture, or intricate trade routes of the Caribbean Arawak. Students are not taught about the complex, nonverbal “wampum” constitution of the Iroquois Confederacy, or the singular architectural stylings of the Anasazi…
Essentially, this educational strategy frames the entire Native American experience as one of tragedy — which, over the last three hundred years or so, it certainly has been — but totally neglects the fact that pre-Columbian America was just as diverse, socially and politically complicated, and frankly exciting as Europe or the Middle East. There was warfare, diplomatic intrigue, rich mythology; innovation in the arts, sciences, and mathematics, and so much more going on than modern history books would have you believe.
The Americas didn’t simply spring out of the ocean just so our Genoese “hero” could plant a Spanish flag in her. In 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue… and that’s about it. Native Americans absolutely should have their own holiday. But thousands of years of history and culture deserve so much more recognition than one Monday a year.