Posted on October 12, 2009

Should We Even Have a Columbus Day?

David McGrath, Christian Science Montior, October 12, 2009

Oct. 12 is the important anniversary of the opening of the Americas to settlers, and one that merits celebration, but by commemorating it as Columbus Day, Americans stand to ignore part of the past that deserves to be remembered.

While the holiday has been used to teach ideals of patriotism, and Christopher Columbus has been used as a symbol of an immigrant’s right to citizenship, the other side to the discovery of the new country is death and destruction. To many native Americans, Columbus symbolizes slavery.

In order to bridge this gap, perhaps the government should take a cue from Hawaii and call the day Discover’s Day?


It was Columbus who opened the way for European colonizers, whose wars and infectious diseases wiped out massive numbers of native Americans. They set the standard by exiling the rest to rural, out-of-the-way reservations.


Granted, Columbus was not the sole precipitator of the displacement and suffering imposed on native Americans for the next half millennium, and certainly his navigational, scientific, and sheer physical accomplishment, which rank him with or above such figures as Marco Polo, Ferdinand Magellan, and Lewis and Clark, cannot be denied.

Yet Columbus was more than just an inevitable cog in history’s colonial machine. His own words survive in his letters as proof of his dehumanization of the indigenous people, whom he considered the property of Queen Isabella. He enslaved many of the Tiano Indians, while the rest he subjected to war and destruction.

Often, the first step to healing is recognition of a problem. By changing the name of this holiday we will draw attention to the plight of the native Americans, not so they can be pitied, but in order that their situation, which began with Columbus, can be addressed.

Perhaps replacing Columbus Day with “Discover’s Day” would stretch Americans to recognize where we have come from. It would also give a nod not only to what led to the influx of ideas and people on which this nation was founded, but to some abuses that the United States must remember to avoid. In so doing, we gain intellectual honesty.

Another solution would be to replace the adulation for Columbus with a native American hero. Crazy Horse’s monument is already in place near Mount Rushmore.

Chief Joseph might be more politically acceptable, though. The great savior of the Nez Perce tribe had the wisdom of President Lincoln and the inclination toward nonviolence of Martin Luther King. His recorded reflections are an inspiration for all patriots:


The prospect of swapping Columbus for an Indian chief, in one fell swoop, may be a hard sell, especially in view of the paucity of political influence wielded by American Indians.

But the first step, and one everyone can embrace right now, is to honor the truth by terminating the celebration of Christopher Columbus, while commemorating the importance of this historic day in all its implications. It might just help with the healing of all America.