DENVER—While Americans celebrate Columbus Day, American Indians remember one little toddler who played on the quiet banks of Sand Creek, until the morning in 1864 when the American soldiers came.
“Then, as one of the cavalrymen later told it, while his compatriots were slaughtering and mutilating the bodies of all the women and all the children they could catch, he spotted the boy trying to flee,” wrote David Stannard in “American Holocaust.”
“There was one little child, probably three years old, just big enough to walk through the sand,” wrote a Calvary man.
“The Indians had gone ahead, and this little child was behind following after them. The little fellow was perfectly naked, traveling on the sand. I saw one man get off his horse, at a distance of about seventy-five yards, and draw up his rifle and fire—he missed the child. Another man came up and said, ‘Let me try the son of a bitch; I can hit him.’“
“He got down off his horse, kneeled down and fired at the little child, but he missed him. A third man came up and made a similar remark, and fired, and the little fellow dropped.”
Danger lies in forgetting
Stannard, board member of the new American Indian Genocide Museum being established in Houston, said the most massive act of genocide in the world followed the arrival of Columbus in the Americas.
“The danger lies in forgetting,” said Elie Wiesel, in a book of oral histories of the Jewish Holocaust.
“Forgetting, however, will not effect only the dead,” Stannard said. “Should it triumph, the ashes of yesterday will cover our hopes for tomorrow.
“To begin, then, we must try to remember.”
When Columbus first sighted land on Oct. 12, 1492, the American Indian Holocaust began. The Spanish were driven by their lust for gold and silver and the English fueled by their desire for property. Christians killed with zeal those they believed defiled with sin. Spain needed labor and set up missions in order to convert Natives. The English, however, did not bother. Their goal was exterminating the Indian race.
“Just 21 years after Columbus’ first landing in the Caribbean, the vastly populous island that the explorer had re-named Hispaniola was effectively desolate; nearly 8 million people—those Columbus chose to call Indians—had been killed by violence, disease, and despair.”
Within a handful of generations, following their first encounters with Europeans, the vast majority of indigenous peoples in the Americas were exterminated.
Overall, 95 percent were obliterated.
“What this means is that, on average, for every 20 Natives alive at the moment of European contact—when the lands of the Americas teemed with numerous tens of millions of people—only one stood in their place when the bloodbath was over.”
While remembering the millions that were tortured, enslaved, murdered and eliminated by spread of diseases, Stannard said it is important to remember that each was a sacred and treasured human life.
Putting a human face on the Indian people who died, like the little boy whose remains were mangled at Sand Creek, Stannard said life should be remembered, as one reads of the Jewish Holocaust and horrors of the African slave trade, because the genocide has never stopped.
The Commission on Human Rights of the Organization of American States observed that 40,000 people simply “disappeared” in Guatemala during the 15 years preceding 1986. Another 100,000 were openly murdered.
“That is the equivalent, in the United States, of more than 4 million people slaughtered or removed under official government decree—a figure that is almost six times the number of American battle deaths in the Civil War, World War I, World War II, the Korean War and the Vietnam War combined.”
Almost all the dead and disappeared were Indians, direct descendants of the Mayas. Still today, indigenous in the Americas are tortured and slaughtered, their homes and villages bombed, while more than two-thirds of their rain forest homelands have been intentionally burned and scraped into ruin.
Hispaniola was only the beginning.
Kevin Abourezk, Lincoln Journal Star, Oct. 12
Only days after 200 Native demonstrators were arrested while protesting a Columbus Day parade in Denver, educators and students at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln staged a protest of their own Monday.
It was a different kind of protest. A quieter one.
Devoid of the spectacle of the Denver demonstration—where Natives held banners that read “Christopher Columbus, America’s First Terrorist”—those who took part in Monday’s protest nevertheless presented a powerful message.
And their message was: Columbus was a murderer of Native people and should not be remembered as the “discoverer” of America, a land already populated when he accidentally found it while searching for the East Indies.
“A lot of people just think Native Americans are just being silly and oversensitive about the use of the word ‘discovery,’“ said Victoria Smith, a UNL assistant professor of history.
The occasion for Monday’s “protest” was a panel discussion and presentations on the “real” history of Columbus held on the UNL campus. The event was hosted by the University of Nebraska Intertribal Exchange and was held to educate people on the historical myths surrounding Columbus’ voyages to the Americas.
Among those myths: That Columbus was friendly with the indigenous people he met and had little effect on the small numbers of Natives who existed at the time of his arrival in the New World.
Not so, said Donna Akers, a UNL assistant professor of history.
On the island of Hispaniola, site of present-day Haiti and the Dominican Republic, Columbus was responsible for the systematic murder of nearly nine million indigenous people over the course of 40 years after his arrival there in the late 15th century.
“In less than a normal lifetime, a whole culture was destroyed,” Akers said.
She related stories of the cruel and torturous treatment of indigenous people by Columbus.
Stories of infants fed alive to hungry dogs as their mothers watched.
Stories of Natives impaled on swords and thrown down cliff walls with slit throats.
Stories of 70,000 infants lost to starvation and murder in Cuba over the course of three months.
It is a history you won’t find in textbooks, Akers said. In those pages, Columbus is a hero.
“That’s what we’re teaching our children,” she said.
James Garza, an assistant UNL professor of history, described how Columbus only came to be seen as a hero during the 19th century as Americans searched for a past of their own.
“He was reinvented to suit the needs of 19th-century nationalism,” he said. “It’s the sort of simplistic history that ignores reality.”
The reality, he said, was that Columbus initiated the genocide of indigenous people throughout the Americas. And that genocide continues today, said Carleen Sanchez, a UNL assistant professor of anthropology and geography.
She cited the assassinations of indigenous leaders in Honduras and the sterilization of female Central American textile workers in recent years.
“We’re not here to talk about something that happened 500 years ago,” she said. “We can still see the effects of genocide.”
Greg Chappelle, a 21-year-old UNL elementary education student, said he never knew the extent of Columbus’ cruelty toward Natives.
“I hadn’t heard those details before,” he said. “I knew he wasn’t the greatest person in the world.”