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Views Of Indigenous Peoples Day (Columbus Day)

October 8, 2018

As a history buff I enjoy reading columns and opinion pieces about Columbus Day.  Or as some call Indigenous Peoples Day.   I understand the resentment that is strongly felt about the man.  I come from a gemological line (on my mom’s side) going back to Cherokee Chief John Ross’ family.  Ross was Chief at the time of the Trail of Tears.  I have long called what happened in the formative days of this nation-to-be ‘the un-peopling’ of a land.  The numbers of native-Americans killed or brought down by disease is a staggering number.

So when I read about Columbus–a strong navigator and towering figure in history–I ponder more than just what was taught in my classrooms.  I now am aware of the larger story and the deeper meanings his travels had on not just the age of exploration, but also the deep fingerprints of such adventures left behind.    Western Civilization has had a long march from the days in Mesopotamia.  It has not been a clean march–but instead often a painful one filled with wide gaps in logic and morality.   And what was gained in the process, of course, has shaped and guided the entire world.

I am not a a basher of Western Civilization.  In fact, quite the opposite.  I only wish it to be viewed with a larger lens and a deeper perspective.

So each year at this time I read from those who construct their opinion from one side, or the other, of this slice of our national story.  Jeff Jacoby happens to be a great writer who I read as often as he pens something.  And so, today, his take on this moment in history is posted, in part, below.   I also posted a part of an editorial from an Iowa newspaper with a differing perspective.

But not even Columbus’s most implacable bashers can deny that he was a history-changing mariner of incomparable skill — a self-taught genius of towering valor and grit, who was seized by an unshaken, audacious conviction that he could reach the East by sailing west. Columbus propelled the human story forward as few men or women ever have. If his shortcomings were enormous, so were his achievements, for it was he who sowed the seeds of Western civilization in the New World.  

What we too often forget — or never even consider — is that among those “seeds of Western civilization” were the very concepts of human rights, natural law, justice, and morality that Columbus and the Europeans who followed him are condemned for violating.
It wasn’t woke 21st-century liberals who first found grievous fault with Columbus’s behavior toward the indigenous peoples of the Americas. It was his contemporaries. The orders issued to Columbus by Ferdinand and Isabella included a mandate that he and the men under his command “treat the Indians very well and lovingly, and abstain from doing them any harm.”
When Columbus was accused of failing to follow those instructions, the Spanish sovereigns took action. They commissioned Francisco de Bobadilla, a member of the religious Order of Calatrava, to investigate and report on the admiral’s conduct. After gathering information from Columbus’s supporters and detractors, Bobadilla filed a no-holds-barred indictment that detailed the cruelties Columbus and his men had inflicted in the lands they had discovered.

From the Iowa State Daily.

Historians who deal with the evidence of his brutality are often decried as politically correct and revisionists by those who cling to the myths of a gilded hero who brought “civilization” to “savages.” The truth, however, is far darker.

Columbus had no qualms about becoming a slaver, writing in his logbook “They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance … they would make fine servants … with 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” referring to the indigenous populations he encountered.

A Catholic priest sent to observe the region that Columbus governed describes “insatiable greed and cruelty,” writing that “[the Spaniards] thought nothing of knifing [American] 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, and now I tremble as I write.”

Many cities and other governmental entities now celebrate the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day, including the states of Minnesota, Vermont, Alaska and South Dakota.

This year, Iowa can join that list with pride as Gov. Kim Reynolds proclaims today as the State of Iowa’s inaugural Indigenous Peoples Day.

We have indubitably made strides toward recognizing the suffering that Native American populations were put through during the discovery of America by not celebrating their oppressors. Until we do away with Columbus Day entirely, though, those efforts will remain incomplete.

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