Why We Should Keep the Columbus Day Holiday

Updated on October 14, 2019
Chuck profile image

A lifelong lover of history, I enjoy writing articles about the past & interesting political topics, especially when the two intersect.

Source

Don't Replace Columbus Day With Indigenous Peoples Day

As Columbus Day approaches each year, some groups on the left start agitating for the replacement of Columbus Day with an Indigenous People's Day.

Honoring the history and culture of the native people living in our country prior to start of the 15th century Age of Exploration is a good idea, which in 1968 led California Governor Ronald Reagan to sign a resolution passed by the legislature establishing the 4th Friday in September as American Indian Day (renamed Native American Day by the legislature in 1998). Since then, some other U.S. states have created similar holidays honoring the pre-Columbian inhabitants of the United States.

Columbus monument, Barcelona, Spain
Columbus monument, Barcelona, Spain | Source

Is Indigenous People's Day a Celebration or an Attempt to Rewrite History?

While the past is behind us and can’t be changed, our view of the past can, and sometimes does, change. Change can come as a result of the discovery of new evidence in the form of finding lost manuscripts, new archaeological discoveries, or new discoveries in related disciplines. It can lead to a reinterpretation based upon the new evidence. However, throughout history there have been groups and leaders, such as Vladimir Lenin and the ruling Russian Communists, who suppress or destroy materials, including monuments, in an attempt to rewrite history to favor their cause.

Today, many of those seeking to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People's Day tend to present the history of the European discovery and colonization of the Americas within the framework of a Marxist class struggle in which the European explorers are the oppressors and the native peoples the oppressed, with the goal of advancing their political agenda rather than celebrating the culture of native people.

Who Are Indigenous Peoples?

While definitions vary, the term "indigenous people" is commonly understood to refer to the group of people living in an area prior to the arrival of a new, and often larger, group from outside.

While the movement of people has been constant throughout human existence on earth, it is the European discovery and colonization of the Americas on which opponents of Columbus Day focus.

Montezuma Castle National Monument South of Flagstaff, AZ.  Pre-Columbian Cliff Dwelling abandoned by its inhabitants a century before Columbas
Montezuma Castle National Monument South of Flagstaff, AZ. Pre-Columbian Cliff Dwelling abandoned by its inhabitants a century before Columbas | Source

Europe at the Time of Columbus

Many of those who call for changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day tend to give the impression that a conquering Europe sought to destroy the peaceful native inhabitants of the Americas.

This is not correct as Europe was not, and still is not, a nation with its own unique culture, language, laws, and government. Instead, it is a continent made up of numerous independent nations each with different histories, cultures, laws, and languages. At the time of Columbus, and down to modern times, individual European nations have retained their own cultures, languages, and laws while trading and periodically warring against each other.

The fall of Constantinople (later renamed Istanbul) to an invading Turkish Army from Asia in 1453 resulted in European traders losing access to the famous Silk Road trade route between Europe and the Far East. This led to a push to find a sea route to Asia in which Christopher Columbus and some of his seafaring rivals were seeking.

The Americas at the Time of Columbus

Like Europe, the Americas (the continents of North and South America) were populated by numerous tribes who traded with each other and fought with each other. Like European nations, these tribes had their own languages, cultures, and tribal identities.

These native tribes ranged from small, nomadic, or agricultural groups, sharing a common language and culture while occupying the same geographic area. There were also tribes that not only lived within a specific geographic area but also ruled over and controlled a much larger surrounding area inhabited by other tribes they had conquered. Like some European monarchs who ruled and taxed principalities outside of their kingdom, these tribes ruled and regularly extracted tribute from the neighboring tribes they controlled.

Other than the native peoples’ lack of horses and wheeled vehicles, along with the inability to produce steel tools and weapons from iron ore, life for people in Europe and native peoples in the Americas was not much different. There were differences among classes in both areas with the masses of peasants having the most primitive living conditions and the upper classes having access to a somewhat better material life.

Arguments Used by Critics of Columbus

Present-day critics of Columbus and the European colonization that followed cite a number of arguments to support their effort to do away with Columbus Day and replace it with a federal Indigenous People's Day holiday.

1. Columbus Didn’t Discover America

One of the first things often put forward by critics is the fact that when Columbus arrived, people had been living in the Americas for thousands of years, which means that it had already been discovered. So it makes no sense to credit Columbus as the discoverer of the Americas.

However, Columbus’ claim to fame is due to being the first European whose discovery was made known throughout Europe at a time when many people were interested in knowing there was a sea route to China.

2. Discovery Led to Attempted Genocide by Disease

Columbus and the Europeans that followed after him are being accused of committing genocide against the native peoples of the Americas. While there are no hard figures, only estimates that vary depending upon whose theory one is using, historians generally agree that the native population of the Americas suffered a decline that seems to coincide with the arrival of Columbus.

Critics of Columbus and the European colonization of North and South America frequently cite genocide by the Europeans for this apparent decline. Genocide involves the deliberate intent to wipe out a particular racial or ethnic group. However, as was pointed out above, at the time of Columbus Europe was a collection of warring nations who were busy fighting and killing each other. They didn’t have the time to get together and plan, let alone have the resources needed to undertake the deliberate annihilation of people living on two continents across the Atlantic that stretched from the Arctic to the Antarctic.

There is no disputing the fact that early European explorers and settlers brought a number of diseases, including smallpox, to the Americas which proved deadly to the native inhabitants. However, the Europeans bringing these diseases to the Americas were unwitting carriers of these germs. Smallpox and many other diseases have an incubation period during which the germs can be passed on to others before signs of the disease appear in the infected person.

Diseases like smallpox were common in Europe and, over time, Europeans developed varying degrees of immunity to these then-common diseases which enabled them to better survive and in some cases even avoid the diseases. The native people of the Americas lacked this immunity.

There have been tales of Europeans deliberately giving blankets used by one of their own who had died from smallpox to local natives in an attempt to eliminate the natives in the area. While natives may have come in contact with bedding or other clothing belonging to people who had died of smallpox science had not advanced to the point where people understood disease well enough to use it in warfare.

The Italian scientist Girolamo Fracastoro first proposed the germ theory of disease in 1546. However, scientists lacked the tools needed to see germs, let alone conduct experiments to learn how germs caused disease. Until the late 19th century people, including physicians, believed in the miasma theory which claimed that diseases were caused by invisible particles carried by vapors or bad air which people inhaled and became sick.

Replica of an 18th century rural peasant home in Scotland.  Part of Exhibit Celtic Re-enactment Organization (CROFT)  at 2019 Renaissance Festival in Apache Junction, AZ
Replica of an 18th century rural peasant home in Scotland. Part of Exhibit Celtic Re-enactment Organization (CROFT) at 2019 Renaissance Festival in Apache Junction, AZ | Source

3. Genocide by War

Even if they accept the argument that death by disease was accidental and unintentional, some critics still accuse the Europeans of annihilating the original inhabitants of the Americas through warfare.

The objective of Columbus’ voyages was finding a western sea route to China and the East Indies for trade purposes and not overseas conquest. Following his successful first voyage, the Spanish crown gave him the titles and awards he had been promised before leaving. Being an excellent marketer, he began wooing investors and colonists to return with him to the new lands.

He made two more voyages to the new lands with responsibility for managing the colony he established. As governor of the new territories, he proved to be both a harsh ruler as well as a poor administrator. His enslaving of, against the orders of the King and Queen of Spain, many of the local natives, along with general misrule led to Columbus being arrested and returned to Spain in chains where he was tried and imprisoned. Friends eventually convinced the King and Queen to release Columbus and provide him with ships and crews for a fourth voyage but his lucrative royal titles and government posts were not restored to him.

When the Europeans began coming to the Americas, they brought their disputes and alliances with them. Upon landing in new areas and encountering the natives of the area one of three things generally happened:

  1. In some cases, each side saw new trade possibilities and a trading relationship was established.
  2. In other cases, one or both sides had enemies in the vicinity and formed an alliance to fight together.
  3. In the third instance, the natives and Europeans each saw the other as a threat and began fighting.

During colonial times fighting between European settlers and natives usually involved one of the colonial powers and one or more of its native allies against another foreign colonial foe or its allies. This continued after the American Revolution when some native individuals or tribes sided with the U.S. Army in protecting settlers against native attacks during territorial disputes.

No Individual Is Required to Observe Official Holidays

Official Federal Holidays are days on which most Federal government offices are closed and their employees have the day off as a paid holiday. Most states tend to observe federal holidays by closing state offices (and often public schools and colleges) and giving their employees a paid day off. Some private employers also observe federal holidays by closing and giving their employees the day off. The same is true for certain state holidays.

However, no public or private employers are required by law to close and give their employees the holiday off. Similarly, individuals are not required to formally observe or participate in events associated with official Federal or state holidays or any other holidays their employer decides to close and give employees the day off with pay.

In addition to the fact that no person is legally required to celebrate official Federal or State holidays enacted by Congress or a state legislature, there is also no law that prevents individuals from observing other holidays that have not been created by a legislature.

Leave Columbus Day Alone and Work to Create an Indigenous Peoples Holiday

Finally, in addition to individuals not having to participate in holidays for which their employer gives them a paid day off there is nothing against individuals joining with others to create a new holiday more in tune with their interests. Once the group agrees on what to celebrate and when to celebrate it they can go about organizing the annual celebration.

The goal can be to get Congress to pass legislation to make it a Federal Holiday. This is the way the Italians created Columbus Day and labor groups created Labor Day, both of which are now Federal holidays. However, it took years of work building support among individuals as well as local groups and state legislatures to support the holiday before there was enough national support for Congress to pass legislation making these two holidays Federal holidays.

The other way is to work to get people to come out and celebrate the holiday without backing from the state or Federal governments. Both St. Patrick’s Day and Halloween are holidays that have evolved over time and are celebrated throughout the country without the government passing legislation to create them or employer support in the form of paid days off for their employees.

Either way, the key is providing an opportunity for people to come together for a few minutes or day to celebrate and enjoy an event together, rather than fermenting anger and division which appears to be the goal of many of those opposing Columbus Day.

Questions & Answers

    © 2019 Chuck Nugent

    Comments

      0 of 8192 characters used
      Post Comment
      • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

        Chuck Nugent 

        2 weeks ago from Tucson, Arizona

        Thanks for the compliment. I still have a connection to Wisconsin since my younger brother followed me to Wisconsin and graduated from UW Whitewater then married and moved to the Eau Claire area where his wife is from. In addition to HubPages I also help write content on a contract basis for my niece (his oldest daughter) who started a social media marketing company last year.

      • KathyH profile image

        KathyH 

        5 weeks ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

        I agree with creating a separate holiday for indigenous peoples and leaving Columbus Day alone! There is a faction out there that seems bent on re-writing our history.

        I didn’t know you have ties to a Wisconsin! Much of your writing reflects that Midwestern sensibility! We moved to Las Vegas for eight years and came back - we had moved for a job and things changed in our son’s lives so we moved back to be closer to them. You’ve chosen interesting topics to write about! I look forward to reading more!

      • Chuck profile imageAUTHOR

        Chuck Nugent 

        5 weeks ago from Tucson, Arizona

        KathyH - Thanks for your comments and for visiting my Hub. As I said in the Hub I think an Indigenous Peoples Day would be good I just don't see why we should replace Columbus Day with an Indigenous Peoples Day especially when many of those pushing for the change appear to care less about celebrating the contributions of the pre-Columbian inhabitants of our nation and more about advancing their attempt to re-write history and advance their radical political agenda. Thanks again for your comments and for updating me on Wisconsin. Before moving to Arizona I lived in Wisconsin getting my undergraduate degree at UW-Superior, my Masters Degree at UW-Milwaukee as well as spending a number of years working for Mutual S&L and flying with the Wisconsin Air National Guard.

      • KathyH profile image

        KathyH 

        5 weeks ago from Waukesha, Wisconsin

        Wisconsin just became the 13th state in the nation to change it to Indigenous People's Day by the ... ehem... Governor who was elected by potheads and deranged - people. Potheads hoped by electing him it would become legalized, but since the legislature in Wisconsin is still "sane"... doesn't look like that's going to happen. You've made really good points here and a good case to leave the holiday alone. Why cave to an unhinged fraction of the population and re-write history? History is what it is.. it happened... and if we don't learn from it, we are doomed to repeat it. Thoughtfully written hub! Thank you!

      working

      This website uses cookies

      As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, soapboxie.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

      For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://soapboxie.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

      Show Details
      Necessary
      HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
      LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
      Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
      AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
      HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
      Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
      CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
      Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
      Features
      Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
      Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
      Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
      PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
      MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
      Marketing
      Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
      Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
      Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
      Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
      Statistics
      Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
      ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
      Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
      ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)