Should Columbus Day Be a National Holiday: Essay

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Throughout history, there have been numerous debates surrounding historical figures and the justifications for their actions. One figure, in particular, Christopher Columbus has been under scrutiny for decades because of the history he has had with indigenous peoples of the Americas. Some may argue that Columbus was brutal and violent and that the damage that he had caused to these indigenous peoples needs to be recognized. On the flip side, others may say that the natives were just as, if not more brutal than Columbus and other colonizers. This argument is brought up more frequently around Columbus Day, with some believing that in replacement, Indigenous People’s day should be celebrated. He may have helped the world get to the point that it is at today, but Columbus’ actions towards native Americans far outweigh his achievements. The Native Americans have been severely mistreated by Columbus and history has been “whitewashed” at their expense of them because of the way they have been portrayed.

As a child, I was told that Columbus Day was a day to honor the life and legacy of Christopher Columbus because of his achievements and how they spurred the eventual interconnectedness of the world. However, when I grew older and learned about history from a global perspective, I came to know both sides of the story. The idea of Columbus that I was told to believe started to fade as I learned about the torture and humiliation that native Americans were put through by him and other colonizers. Nevertheless, some argue that during pre-Columbian times, natives were savage and cruel, so the pain that they were being put through was deserved. This idea can be seen in War Before Civilization: The Myth of the Peaceful Savage, where author Lawrence Keely wrote that “the dogs of war were seldom on a leash.” This may be the case in the viewpoint that the natives were violent and unrestrained, but does not justify the reasoning for them to be treated the way that they were. Different circumstances could cause the need to be brutal and unforgiving to arise, but that is only when one is provoked. There are many instances in history where individuals resort to violence because of the way they are treated. This idea can be seen in many interactions between natives and colonists, where the natives are treated unfairly and then looked down upon for fighting back.

Ever since colonists made it to the new world, native Americans have been mistreated for personal gain, whether it be for one’s country or one’s wealth. For instance, an excerpt from Christopher Columbus’ journal states that “They [the natives] should be good servants and intelligent, for I observe that they quickly took in what was said to them, and I believe that they would easily be made Christians, as it appeared to me that they had no religion, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highnesses that they may learn to speak.” (Journal of Christopher Columbus, 1492). This quote shows that Columbus does not have good intentions with the natives because he wants them to be sent to Spain to become servants. Additionally, he wants to convert them to Christianity without acknowledging their will to do so. This shows that Columbus had no regard for the desires of these natives and sent them to Spain for his advantage.

Another instance of mistreatment is when Christopher Columbus wrote that, “... for nothing is lacking except settlement and ordering the Indians to whatever Your Highnesses may wish. Because I with the people that I bring with me, who are not many, go about in all these islands without danger; for I have already seen three of these sailors go ashore where there was a crowd of Indians [people of Hispaniola], and all would flee without the Spaniards wanting to do harm. They do not have arms and they are all naked, and of no skill in arms, and so very cowardly that a thousand would not stand against three. And so they are fit to be ordered about and made to work, plant, and do everything else that may be needed, and build towns and be taught our customs, and to go about clothed.” (Opinion on the People of Hispaniola). This excerpt from Columbus’ journal further demonstrates that he viewed the natives as weak, fearful, and easily subjugated. Moreover, he perceived the indigenous people as uncivilized because they did not live the way Columbus did. In addition, he saw them as an opportunity for the use of forced labor.

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A final example of persecution by Columbus and others is a description of the atrocities that some indigenous peoples faced. Bartolomé de Las Casas was a Spanish colonist who traveled to Hispaniola in the years after Christopher Columbus’ final voyage. He documented the relationship between the Spanish and the native peoples, stating that, “They [Spanish colonists] made bets as to who would slit a man in two, or cuff off his head at one blow, or they opened up his bowels. They tore babes from their mother’s breasts by the feet and dashed their heads against the rocks. Others they seized by the shoulders and threw into the rivers… thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades… My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature…” (The Legacy of Columbus). Even though Columbus was not there at the time of this quote, he had already set the precedent for how the indigenous peoples should be treated. This statement from Las Casas displays the brutality of Columbus and all those who came after him. This quote presents the reality of these natives and how miserable their lives were because of the colonists’ rule. Bartolomé de Las Casas started advocating for better treatment of these native Americans after witnessing these horrors.

Though there have been some peaceful interactions between natives and colonists, these relations eventually fall apart because the colonists overstep or disrupt their ways of life. For instance, King Philip's War was started because of “... the colonist's unrelenting desire for more and more land…” (America’s Most Devastating Conflict: King Philip’s War). This resulted in the Wampanoag tribe invading the Massachusetts colony of Swansea. The war eventually spread, with other tribes joining in on the fight. This quote is an example of the disputes that were forever present, which resulted in the natives getting a bad rep because of fighting back.

An additional example of conflicts like this is when Hernando de Soto arrived in what is now present-day Florida. He and his people traveled into the region and were met with the traditional customs that these natives had for visitors. These conquistadors though, “... either misread or ignored the intentions of their hosts and often forced native commoners, who customarily provided temporary labor to visitors as a courtesy gesture, into slavery.” (Native Americans and Colonization). Considering the actions of de Soto and his people, the natives fought back but were met with even more opposition from the Spanish. These Spanish conquistadors either killed or captured the indigenous peoples of the region, which devastated the population. The indigenous peoples were just trying to fight for their people, which did not sit well with the conquistadors because of the destruction they left behind.

Overall, pre-Columbian history is “whitewashed” and the injustice that has been inflicted by Christopher Columbus and others towards indigenous peoples has been everlasting. Columbus and others like him have been brutal, inhuman, and violent to the native Americans. This cruelty has been overlooked for so long because of how history has been taught for decades. The indigenous peoples of the Americas were not brutal, they were just expressed as savages to benefit the view of the colonizers. This whitewashing of history has left us questioning what truly happened concerning indigenous history. Additionally, it has prevented conversations regarding the dark side of many historical figures that we have grown up to admire. These talks about injustice and cruelty need to happen, especially around Columbus Day. It is important to understand both sides of the story to fully grasp the magnitude of these problems. These violent acts committed by Columbus and others will not be forgotten. Instead, they will be used as a means to start conversations about the past and how to never make the same mistakes again.

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Should Columbus Day Be a National Holiday: Essay. (2023, March 01). Edubirdie. Retrieved April 20, 2024, from
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