In 1492, Christopher Columbus should have stayed home.
At least, that’s what those attempting to abolish Columbus Day believe.
“Columbus deserves to be remembered as the first terrorist in the Americas,” said Bill Bigelow, co-director of the Zinn Education Project, known as ZEP.
This Columbus Day could be our last if ZEP, based on the writings of famed historian Howard Zinn, and other activists have their way. In a growing trend, many universities and cities are adopting “Indigenous Peoples Day” in place of the celebration of Columbus.
Among those rejecting the traditional holiday are Berkeley, California, Minneapolis, Minnesota, Seattle, Washington, the University of Alaska Southeast and the University of Oklahoma. There are also countless private celebrations of the newly ordained holiday throughout the country.
The main argument for the change is that a celebration of Columbus is equivalent to celebrating a genocide and is offensive to the Native American cultures around the country, opponents argue.
In 2014, when Seattle accepted the new label, City Council member Kshama Sawant said: “Learning about the history of Columbus and transforming this day into a celebration of indigenous people and a celebration of social justice … allows us to make a connection between this painful history and the ongoing marginalization, discrimination, and poverty that indigenous communities face to this day.”
The anti-Columbus indoctrination starts early.
“Christopher Columbus has been used and abused by historians for centuries.”
The National Education Association has an entire page of lesson plans and class activities to teach elementary students about Columbus Day.
In a first grade lesson plan found among those resources and written by April Dowdy at Cardinal Community Academy, one of the activities involves students cutting out a section of sentences and pasting them into a booklet. A portion of the paragraph describing Columbus includes:
“Columbus came back to Spain with many interesting things. He even came back with (six) Indians. Christopher Columbus went back with ships three more times. But sometimes the Spaniards and Columbus were mean. They took the natives and sold them as slaves.”
Susan Hanssen, a professor at the University of Dallas who received her doctorate from Rice University and specializes in the history of American higher education, pushed back against the trending historical perception.
“Christopher Columbus has been used and abused by historians for centuries,” Hanssen said. “We owe Columbus the world historical encounter between European culture and the native peoples of the Americas and the opening of the New World as an escape hatch for millions of European refugees from totalitarianism over the next five centuries. 1492 will always mark a stunning turning point in global history.”
She said that from a historical standpoint, Columbus’ discovery of the Western world is too big a deal to be cast aside by anyone.
“Simply ignoring the historic event because of its devastating demographic consequences for indigenous peoples, or because one objects generally to the whole political, religious, cultural, and economic nexus that brought it about, is not responsible ‘history,'” she said.
The contention between the dueling identities of Columbus boils over into every level of education — even the primary schools. Around this time of year, articles pop up discussing how to talk to children about Columbus or how to teach it to your class.
However, Hanssen challenges educators.
“We have to face it, teach it, ponder it, learn from it. Not teaching about Columbus won’t make the 1492 meeting between Europe and the Americas go away,” she said. “And yes, it was Columbus who sailed the ocean blue … not the indigenous peoples who sailed to Europe. That is history.”
From a historical perspective, Hanssen pointed out that “many of the concepts of international law and universal human rights that we appeal to today to defend the native peoples were in fact developed by Spanish Dominicans, Franciscans, and Jesuits.”
Hanssen argued the shift leading to the outcry against Columbus originated from “20th century Marxists (who) turned on Columbus as an icon of all that they hated about Christianity, the West, and the United States of America. He became for them, she said, “the living embodiment of a fascist, bourgeois, technological, imperial, genocidal, greedy, racist pig.”