Columbus Day: a celebration of genocide and colonial pride


Veronika Maynard

Veronika Maynard writes about Columbus Day’s fraught past including religious and racial discrimination.


In 1492, Native Americans found Christopher Columbus. Yet we celebrate otherwise.  

Columbus Day has been celebrated federally since 1937. And at long last, Columbus Day is losing any of the empty recognition it earned. It has been losing it for years really, since 1977. 1977 was the year that indigenous people were first able to propose to a United Nations Conference that Columbus Day was incredibly discriminatory and that it should be canceled or replaced. 

The entire idea of the celebration of Christopher Columbus is absurd. There should be no controversy whether or not should we celebrate him – the man who killed hundreds of thousands for gold. He wasn’t even the first European to land in present day United States. Most of South America has stopped celebrating or has never celebrated Columbus Day. But for some reason, the U.S. finds it an important enough holiday to make it a federal one.

It is often hard to wrap your head around just how terrible a person Christopher Columbus was, of just how horrific his crimes against humanity were. So here’s a brief history lesson about his travels and interactions with the people he encountered.

When Christopher Columbus first landed in the Americas, in what is now the Bahamas, he was welcomed and given gifts by the Arawak tribe that lived there. He soon after departed, and then came back with more ships and people. Natives haven’t seen peace since then.

He took thousands of innocent indigenous people and sent them back to Spain to be sold as slaves. He gave every Arawak tribe member who was over the age of fourteen an unattainable quota for gold – with execution as the punishment for failing to fulfill it. 

This was just the tip of the iceberg in the ways that Columbus would abuse his power.

He would torture indigenous people for his own sick amusement, and even other Europeans who came with him documented how vile and horrific his punishments were. He worked tens of thousands of Native Americans in the south to death – both men and women, and oftentimes children too. 

 It is of no exaggeration to say that Columbus was a harbinger of genocide. And yet we still celebrate him. Worse yet, we celebrate him as a federal holiday.   

Presidents to this day continue to break their treaties with natives and continue to steal and use their land to fuel corporate greed – much like the greed that fueled Columbus. No matter how much a president can say that they support the Native Americans, it means nothing if the government continues to act against the indigenous communities and bring them harm.

Since the government does nothing to find the thousands of missing indigenous women, nothing to return stolen land (or at the very least to not pollute what they have left), the only thing left to do is to MAKE them do something and make them hold accountability for the centuries of the debilitating damage they have caused; because while Christopher Columbus committed his crimes, the U.S. government has been committing theirs against the natives for centuries.

Some of the best ways you can help indigenous communities beyond just signing petitions, is taking the time to educate yourself on their history, and on their culture. Take the time to learn what is considered disrespectful and what isn’t. Take responsibility and accountability for your actions. Never forget that you live in a system that benefits from putting natives and other minorities down so that some people can stand a little higher. Offer support and solidarity wherever you can, and never, never drown out the voices of the people who need to be heard. 

Below I have linked a couple petitions that you can sign to help amplify native voices. Take some time today to look them over and support the people who’ve had everything taken from them but continue to persevere.

Indigenous People’s Day was first celebrated in the U.S. in the year of 1989 as a rightful replacement for Columbus Day. Let’s continue the celebration of indigenous voices far into the future.