Most of us know that Christopher Columbus probably wasn’t the first person to “discover” the world was round, or even find land in America. And anyone who’s studied history past the first grade has a sense of how tyrannical and murderous he was to the natives he encountered. Some might even be willing to excuse Columbus and his atrocities, arguing that the man was just a product of a time when brutality and disrespect for human life were institutionalized. That’s a total copout. For one, he was deemed to be such a villainous cabrón that even his peers shipped him back to Spain in chains and stripped him of his governorship of Hispaniola. For two, if we’re really excusing the bad stuff, then what’s the good stuff Columbus did to deserve his own holiday, exactly? Apart from the whole introducing the New World to the whole ruthless Western colonialism thing, of course.
Many places do not celebrate Columbus or they have replaced the day with other celebrations:
Hawaii, Alaska, and South Dakota are the three U.S. states that do not recognize Columbus Day at all, though Hawaii and South Dakota mark the day with an alternative holiday or observance. Hawaii celebrates Discoverers’ Day, which commemorates the Polynesian discoverers of Hawaii on the same date, the second Monday of October, though the name change has not ended protest related to the observance of Columbus’ discovery. The state government does not treat either Columbus Day or Discoverers’ Day as a legal holiday; state, city and county government offices and schools are open for business. South Dakota celebrates the day as an official state holiday known as “Native American Day” rather than Columbus Day. Iowa and Nevada do not celebrate Columbus Day as an official holiday; however, the governor is “authorized and requested” by statute to proclaim the day each year. In Nevada, this probably has less to do with any objection to the celebration of the day than the fact that it is relatively close to Nevada Day, and schools and banks can only be closed for so many days.
Several other states have removed Columbus Day as a paid holiday for government workers while still maintaining it either as a day of recognition or a legal holiday for other purposes. These include California and Texas.
The city of Berkeley, California has replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day since 1992, a move which has been replicated by several other localities including Sebastopol, Santa Cruz and Dane County, Wisconsin. South Dakota renamed the holiday “Native American Day”. Various tribal governments in Oklahoma designate the day “Native American Day”, or name the day after their own tribe.
Some are suggesting that if we want to celebrate an explorer Bartolomé de las Casas is a better candidate. From PBS:
Dominican friar, writer, and advocate for the humane treatment of the indigenous people of the Americas, was one of the most important religious figures of the 16th-century Spanish world. As Spain struggled to develop a policy regarding the peoples of the New World, Las Casas, spent years attempting to expose the abuses that the native population was subjected to under the encomienda system. He also devoted a great deal of energy trying to convince the Spanish Crown that its mission to spread the Christian faith in the Americas did not have to deprive indigenous people of their freedom, sovereignty, and property rights.
The Oatmeal details some of Columbus’ life and his deeds.