We need to denounce Columbus Day

The West, and especially the Church, has enabled indigenous trauma for too long.

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Photo Courtesy of Dulcey Lima on Unsplash

Evana Upshaw, Staff Writer

On Oct. 12, 1492, Christopher Columbus landed on the shores of what we now call Hispaniola. Hailed as an American hero for his “discovery” of the “New World,” he has a holiday dedicated to this known as Columbus Day.

In recent years, however, a movement to denounce Columbus Day and instead celebrate an alternative holiday— Indigenous Peoples’ Day— is gaining traction. In fact, cities and states across the country have officially made the switch.

But in order to honor indigenous people, Columbus Day needs to be denounced for good.

DISCOVERY AND PROGRESS?

One cannot discover land that is already inhabited. According to author and historian Howard Zinn in his book “A People’s History of the United States,” Columbus met a group called the Arawaks who were living on the island of Hispaniola when he arrived. The Arawaks were welcoming of the Spanish and Italian foreigners, but Columbus wanted one thing: gold. And he would get it by any means necessary.

Claiming the land he arrived on for the king and queen of Spain and the Catholic church, Columbus and his crew enslaved, raped, murdered and tortured the Arawak people into submission. The cruelties they enacted in the name of God were numerous and repulsive. European diseases that the indigenous people had no immunity to are understood to be a key contributor to the genocide of native populations in the Americas as well.

Columbus did horrific things and his expedition opened the door for colonization of indigenous people in the West. Colonization, though widely attributed to “progress” in our Eurocentric society, has wreaked havoc on Native people. Accomplishments achieved by unjust means cannot be considered progress.

“If there are necessary sacrifices to be made for human progress, is it not essential to hold to the principle that those to be sacrificed must make the decision themselves?” Zinn asserted in his book.

The “progress” being forced on Native people was not consensual. Countless groups of people, namely indigenous peoples of North and South America, resisted what was being forced on them by the Europeans. Revolts, rebellions, peaceful protests and wars throughout history between Native populations and the colonizers are proof of this.

And as followers of Jesus, we need to denounce Columbus. He conquered in the name of God by means of the Doctrine of Discovery and was spurred on by a sense of manifest destiny. Only God knows his heart, but by the fruit of his life, we can see he did evil things that are clearly anti-Christ. We cannot celebrate him.

REPENT AND REPLACE

Observing Indigenous Peoples’ Day is like praying in the opposite spirit. When we have a spirit of fear, we pray in the spirit of courage. When faced with darkness, we pray in the spirit of light. Here, we are confronted with Columbus Day, which celebrates something that is oppressive and traumatic. Instead, we should celebrate the lives, culture and resilience of indigenous peoples. By sheer determination they have survived, but justice is needed. Now is the time to listen to their stories. This holiday is for being intentional to stand in solidarity with Native people and highlight Native voices.

The Western Church especially has a responsibility to observe this holiday. Kaitlin Curtice, a Potawatomi author and speaker, argues that we have been complicit in the sins enacted on indigenous people and silent in the face of their oppression. She also says our God’s name has been used in vain by oppressors like Columbus. We should denounce Columbus Day and embrace Indigenous Peoples Day in order to love our Native sisters and brothers and seek justice on their behalf. The name of Jesus has been tarnished by people who do evil in his name, and it is our job, by the work of the Holy Spirit, to decolonize our faith and theology.

GETTING PRACTICAL

There are plenty of Native voices to research and learn from. Curtice lends her voice to what it means to rediscover God as a Native person. Another is Mark Charles, a candidate for president of the United States in 2020, but also widely known as a speaker and activist. Additionally, the late Richard Twiss, who was an esteemed author and educator who used his prophetic voice to be a bridge between Native and non-Native Christians.

You can also check to see if your home city has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and if they have not, advocate for the change. Speak out at your local church and in your family, and find out what tribal lands you live on.

BEGINNING TO HEAL

Changing the holiday’s name and focus will not automatically change peoples’ hearts, but we simply cannot have a holiday dedicated to a man like Columbus. This should be the beginning of our collective repentance and how we start working toward healing and restorative justice for indigenous people.

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