Monday, October 11, 2010

Columbus Day Controversy

Today is Columbus Day in the United States.  Columbus Day first became a federal holiday in 1937.  This holiday celebrates the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the Americas.
Columbus was an Italian explorer who belived the world was round instead of flat.  He was looking for a shorter trade route to the Indies and was funded by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain.  He sailed three ships across the Atlantic Ocean and landed in the Bahamas on October 12, 1492.  Thinking he had reached the Indies, he named the natives "Indians" and took possession for the Spanish crown.
Over the past decade, a growing number of activists have been protesting the celebration of Columbus Day in the Americas.  The introduction of the Europeans into the Native American cultures led to destruction and death. The population of European peoples in the Americas grew steadily, while the number of the Native Americans plummeted. European diseases such as smallpox, influenza, bubonic plague and pneumonic plagues devastated the previously isolated Native Americans. Conflict and outright warfare with European newcomers and other American tribes reduced populations and disrupted traditional society. The extent and causes of the decline have long been a subject of academic debate, along with its possible characterization as a genocide.  Genocide is the deliberate and systematic destruction, in whole or in part, of an ethnic, racial, religious, or national group.
I remember the cute rhyme about Columbus that we learned in elementary school;
In 1492,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
With three ships he called by name,
The Nina, Pinta and Santa Maria.

Today, is a time to think about what really happened when the Europeans "discovered" America.  

1 comment:

Library Gal said...

I'm not sure why we still have a holiday for Columbus. He wasn't the first person to discover America. He wasn't the first European to discover America. He didn't prove the world was round, which most educated people already knew, anyway. (Gosh, even the ancient Greeks knew it was round, and used triangulation to measure its circumference.) He didn't discover the Northwest Passage he was after, and he died thinking he'd landed in India despite the notable absence of the riches of the East.

Here's a great middle school nonfiction book about visitors who came here before Mr. Kill/Enslave All the Natives:

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