Bob Berg/Getty Images
By Aliyah Chavez
For many Americans, Columbus Day means parades or crayon drawings of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. Our country celebrates the “courageous” explorer who discovered the New World in 1492 with great enthusiasm. But when these festivities occur every October, Indigenous Americans brace themselves.
Christopher Columbus sailed in search of the East Indies, accidentally stumbled upon the Bahamas and is noted in history as the “discoverer” of the Americas. Thousands of Indigenous people had called the “New World” home prior to colonial contact. These people spoke hundreds of languages, and lived in communities that danced, sang, studied the cosmos, cultivated the land, created systems of government and embraced a spiritual way of life.
These delicate ways of life have been written down in history as part of a very one-sided story. We’ve all heard about the good ol’ Native Americans who broke bread with European settlers through a peaceful Thanksgiving celebration a century later. Fewer have heard about the fact that the initial encounter with Columbus spelled disaster for Indigenous people. He brought with him disease, warfare and enslavement.
Today, America celebrates a liar, a murderer and a near end to entire populations of people.
Having graduated from an Indian boarding school, I was taught this flipside of history from researchers, like Howard Zinn, who write about Columbus’ first encounters with Indigenous people. I learned things like the fact that in a letter announcing his “discovery” Columbus wrote, “When I arrived in the Indies, at the first island I found I took some of [the Indigenous people] by force so that they could learn and give me information about what there was in those parts.”
Columbus didn’t come here in hopes that, one day, parades would be held in his name. He didn’t come here hoping that he would be celebrated with story time and art projects. He came here looking for gold and conquest, and nothing would stop him.
Well, Columbus, I would like to say: Joke’s on you.
I am from a long-line of Native American warriors who survived oppression, discrimination and near extermination. My ancestors sacrificed so that I could be here to say no longer will we celebrate your expedition. We will celebrate the resilience of our people, our strength and our dedication to the communities from which we came.
While many Native American tribes have been obliterated since Columbus’ arrival, 566 remain. In the face of assimilation and eradication, we have stood up to defend this country. We stand in solidarity to celebrate this, our Indigenous People’s Day, for those who came before us and those who will follow.
Let us not forget that we survived, and will continue surviving. We must dig deep, and realize our collective duty to proclaim our Indigenous identity to the world.
As we say in my university’s American Indian Organization: Party like it’s 1491.
Aliyah Chavez is a student at Stanford University. She is Native and passionate about it. Follow her on Twitter at @aliyahjade8.
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