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“I do not intend to prejudge the past.” — William Whitelaw
There’s a right way to do an Indigenous People’s Day and a wrong way.
The right way to do Indigenous People’s Day is to host a celebration of them, where all their cultural markers are observed.
The wrong way is to spend most of the event haranguing Italian Americans for celebrating Columbus, which is what many of these events turn out to be. These celebrations are not run by Native Americans, rather by people with political axes to grind. They often degrade into anti-American, anti-Italian, and even anti-Catholic speeches.
Good grief, that’s no way to celebrate Indigenous people.
Indigenous People’s Day was created by the UN and has been celebrated on August 9 for decades. November is Native American Heritage Month. This push by political confrontationists to move it to Columbus Day serves no purpose other than to pit Indigenous People against Italian Catholics in a fight neither of them asked to have.
The organizers find themselves in interesting historical company. The first to oppose Columbus Day in America was the Ku Klux Klan. White supremacists have always hated Catholics and Italians and they lynched us. In fact, the largest mass lynching in American history was of Italian men.
Some people don’t understand the Italian penchant to celebrate Columbus because of the confusion over celebrating the Conquista (we don’t) and celebrating an Italian explorer (we do). Columbus had nothing to do with the Conquista.
In Hispanic countries, Columbus Day was about the Conquista — the conquest by Spain (not Italy) of the Western Hemisphere. That’s understandable since the bloodline of many people there lead back to Spain. It’s also understandable that the Indigenous People in Hispanic countries might not celebrate that — they were conquered. However, 500 years and 30 generations of intermarrying ought to have healed that wound a bit.
In America, Columbus Day is not even slightly about the Conquista of the natives. Columbus, who died in 1506 before the Conquista occurred, was Italian and an unparalleled heroic admiral. As Italian Americans and Caholics, we take pride that his maritime exploits led to the eventuality of the greatest country on earth, the United States of America. That’s right, an Italian’s vision did that and we thank God we are here.
Nothing against the Spanish, but we aren’t them. Italy didn’t conquer this hemisphere 500 years ago, Spain did. We don’t celebrate that; we celebrate Columbus, the man who had nothing to do with the conquest. He never even conquered the Caribbean, where he landed. He died thinking he was in the East Indies.
Yet the hate of these organizers of Indigenous celebrations is directed not at the Spanish (nor should it be), but at Italians. For what? Well, that has to do with American leftist politics.
Hispanic people are considered minorities, non-white and therefore unassailable. Italians, who suffered a history of ethnic discrimination in jobs and housing, were abruptly declared to be “white people” when Affirmative Action was developed, so we couldn’t take part in it. Now, when the left complains of “white people,” that means we Italians are the very people who discriminated against us. As if we did it to ourselves. Yes – identity politics is just that circular and fallacious.
Some of the rhetoric toward Italians is hateful.
First, there is an attempt to make European Italians better people than Italian-Americans by wrongly pointing out a lack of Columbus support in Italy. At one event last year, a speaker claimed there is not one Columbus statue in all of Italy.
She’s right there is “not one” statue of Columbus in Italy. There are 70 statues of Columbus in Italy. Italy celebrates the day every year as Giornata nazionale di Cristoforo Colombo. The speaker was simply lying.
Apparently, Italian Americans are as good as people everywhere. Columbus Day has been celebrated in Spain, Italy, Argentina, Colombia, Peru, Venezuela, Costa Rica, Chile, Mexico, and in the Caribbean. More than 30 countries have statues of Columbus, and there are hundreds of them in total, as far away as Egypt and Japan. They are celebrating an Italian explorer, not a Spanish Conquista.
The Irish Governor of New Jersey, Phil Murphy, quipped after a Columbus statue was torn down that Italians can just find some other Italian to celebrate. You know Phil, every Italian I know on March 17 puts on a green shirt and celebrates with his Irish neighbors. Never would we be so dismissive, so rude, as to insist on changes to their ethnic culture. Many of the speeches surrounding Indigenous People’s Day often tell Italians to change our culture, telling us to “go celebrate Frank Sinatra or something.”
Columbus is the most lied about historical figure. He was not involved in genocide, slavery, or rape as many event organizers and the Internet faux-history machine allege. The historical source documents from his time prove that. Let’s compare the usual lies about Columbus to the truth:
- The lie: They claim Columbus ended his time in the West when he was arrested and jailed by Spain for abuses toward the natives.
The truth: Spain sent Francisco de Bobadilla to investigate claims Columbus was not fair to the Spanish settlers; he was favoring the natives. The day after he arrived, with no investigation, he made up stories about native abuses, arrested Columbus, and declared himself Governor. The Crown discovered de Bobadilla was lying, reinstated Columbus as Admiral, and arrested de Bobadilla. How disingenuous to leave that out! It would be like saying Nelson Mandela was a convict but not telling the rest of his story.
- The lie: They said Columbus was a slave trader.
The truth: After his first landing Columbus left 39 men at a camp he called La Navidad. When he returned, he found one Taino Indian faction massacred all of them. Columbus went to war with that faction, and another Taino faction helped Columbus. Pursuant to the rules of war, he took 500 POWs, which could be converted to slaves. The Queen detested slavery as opposed to her Catholicism and stopped the practice of selling POWs as slaves.
- The lie: Columbus took slaves himself.
The truth: In Spain, there was a labor system called “encomienda” which was not slavery. In the New World, it was a system of exchanges that allowed the natives to be paid for work and other benefits, including education and protecting the Taino from the savage and cannibalistic Carib Indians. The Taino still owned the land as new Castilians. “Encomienda” can devolve into a system of slavery, since it isn’t market-based. Guess who never used the system – the Italian Columbus. Who did use it? Ovando, a Spanish Governor, the third one after Columbus. Ovando let Columbus stay shipwrecked in Jamaica for a year, likely fearing Columbus would oust him over his abuses of the Taino.
- The lie: Columbus was a child sex trafficker and rapist.
The truth: In a letter, Columbus noted that girls as young as nine were being sold. It was a complaint letter. This was after Columbus was ousted by de Bobadilla and he was complaining about how things had deteriorated since his departure.
More truth: On the second voyage, Michele de Cuneo describes raping an Indian woman after fighting the Carib cannibals. In one part of the letter, he says Columbus “gave her to him.” What is ignored? The letter first says he took her, not that Columbus gave her to him. Is it real? No one else recorded this encounter nor anything like it. de Cuneo seems to be engaged in braggadocio of his own sexual prowess like a disturbed letter to Penthouse. Now, look at the surrounding facts. None of Columbus’ detractors who worked against him (there were several) ever accused him of rape or sex trafficking. As they were trying to oust him, wouldn’t they have if he were doing so? Even Rodan, who started a rebellion against Columbus did not. In fact, his complaint was the opposite. He complained Columbus would not let the Spaniards have native women and he made them take the monastic vow of chastity.
- The lie: When Columbus first saw the natives, he wanted to enslave them and said that he could with only 50 men.
The truth: Columbus did not want to and had no intention of doing so. On the day he landed he was giving a report to the Crown about what conditions were there, including a security report. This was an observation, not an aspiration.
- The lie: A contemporary of Columbus, Bartolome de las Cases, wrote about Columbus’ atrocities toward native people.
The truth: De Las Cases was 8 when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, and he wasn’t on the ship. de Las Cases didn’t come to the New World until he was a teenager, six years after Columbus was Governor, so he never witnessed a day of Columbus’ short rule. de Las Cases spent the first part of his life going on slave raids against the Taino after Columbus was dead. Later he decided that was wrong and advocated replacing all the Indian slaves, with Black slaves from Africa. Still later in life, he decided that was wrong too. In an attempt to steer criticism from his own atrocities, he began writing about Columbus — 36 years after Columbus died. This is not a “contemporary” account of Columbus. It’s not an eyewitness report. de las Cases’ own contemporaries called him paranoid and mentally ill.
- The lie: Columbus is responsible for genocide.
The truth: Large-scale deaths can be attributed to disease. Columbus couldn’t stop it because he didn’t know what a germ was. Germs weren’t known in Europe until Italian physician Girolamo Fracastoro proposed them, 40 years after Columbus died. Whoever came first was going to spread disease, and that’s not a genocide, which requires political intention.
- The lie: Columbus didn’t “discover” America because the natives were here.
The truth: I shudder at having to explain. Doesn’t NASA “discover” new planets? Don’t we say Fleming “discovered” penicillin and Madam Curie “discovered” radium? Don’t firemen “discover” a body in the rubble, or police “discover” one at a crime scene? Those people, planets, and elements existed before those “discoveries” but we still use the word, because the word does not connote creation – it connotes the actor finding something he or she had not known before. Columbus did discover the Americas for the Europeans, which led eventually to the USA.
To summarize, Columbus the Italian is often blamed for what later Spanish governors did to the Taino. He couldn’t control, nor is he responsible for what the Spanish government did after he died. That would be like blaming Barack Obama for anything one doesn’t like about Donald Trump, simply because Obama came first. Silly, right? Obama didn’t “enable” or “lead to” Trump because he came first. He simply came first. George H.W. Bush isn’t responsible for what Bill Clinton later did in the oval office to an intern, is he? Columbus is not responsible for what Spanish governors did later, either. Columbus was a good Italian Catholic and we celebrate him.
- Another whopping lie often told at these events is not about Columbus, but America herself. They claim America is involved in a current genocide of Native Americans.
The Truth: Let’s put aside that Native American numbers are growing. As hyperbolic and obviously false that claim is, I decided to at least research it. There are organizations and media that track current genocides and potential genocides around the world. None of them listed America. In fact, no genocide was listed in the entire Western Hemisphere.
I support Indigenous People’s Day celebrations and would attend and donate to them (I have). Hispanic countries seem to be handling them and Columbus Day particularly well. They either combine them or separate them instead of destroying one or the other. Argentina’s is a “Day of Respect of Cultural Diversity.” Colombia celebrates “the encounter of two worlds.” Peru celebrates “Intercultural Dialogue Day.” Costa Rica celebrates “A Day of Encounter of Cultures.”
See the pattern? They strive for inclusion of all. I like that. No one is canceled. If we are really going to move Indigenous People’s Day from August 9 to October, I suggest a full weekend — Indigenous People’s Day beginning on Friday and Columbus Day on Monday. Everyone wins.
In the meantime, if you oppose Columbus Day, make sure you go to work on Monday.