Many of us live in what’s called Paris, Texas. But that’s a name that was given to this land by colonizers. This is Caddo, Kiikaapoi (Kickapoo) and Wichita land.
“Columbus Day” isn’t a holiday I celebrate. It’s Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Each year when the second Monday of October rolls around, I think back to my days as an elementary school student, sitting in a circle on the carpeted floor and gleefully singing a song with my classmates.
“In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue! He had three ships and left from Spain, he sailed through sunshine, wind and rain...”
It wasn’t until I got older that I realized I didn’t want to be singing joyful songs about Christopher Columbus, and I didn’t want to celebrate a day named after him. To say he “discovered the New World” is a complete falsehood, and one that ignores and diminishes indigenous history, to say the least. He merely encountered land that belonged to native peoples for time immemorial.
Columbus enslaved, brutalized and killed native people he encountered. That’s not the kind of history I’d want to name a day after. In the Dominican Republic, where Columbus declared himself governor and viceroy, native people were subjected to his wrath, and when they began to revolt, Columbus not only ordered many of them to be murdered, he had their corpses paraded through the streets as a scare tactic to further uprisings.
In Hispaniola, he captured native people, forcibly converting some to Christianity and forcing labor on others. He even captured six indigenous people and sent them back to Spain to be used as slaves. Many of them didn’t make it there.
But we don’t often hear about these things in history class.
In a 2014 op-ed for the Huffington Post, Chickasaw tribal member and then-Director of Native American and Indigenous Studies at the University of Texas at Austin Shannon Speed wrote that many of the university students she encounters have little to no education regarding the genocide of native peoples. I know I certainly didn’t have enough. Many history courses whitewash the past, painting a picture of white settlers migrating across the ocean to encounter untouched lands with a mere handful of native people — leaving out the later parts where the colonizers enslaved them, looted their land and murdered their families.
“Omission of the truth is, in fact, a form of lying,” she wrote.
History books need to be rewritten in a way that doesn’t leave out the ugly parts that some of us might not want to reckon with, that’s for sure. But the very least we can do is start by renaming and recentering the focus of the second Monday of October around indigenous history, rather than the story of one man who inflicted a great deal of harm. I think that’s something we can all get behind.