Dude! Do you get off for Columbus Day? It’s a paid city holiday. Par-dee!
I’m merely invoking the dude or dudette in each of us that longs for more holidays, and past Columbus Day protests by Native Americans and their supporters sometimes made me wonder. Were revisionist historians or some of my own Indian people holding Christopher Columbus personally liable for every offense against First Nations since 1492? That wouldn’t be fair, I thought. Maybe Columbus was a good guy after all. And I really like celebrations. We all do, right?
So I did some checking.
According to period reports, Columbus was sacked as viceroy of the first Spanish colony in the Americas; hauled back and put in chains for cutting off ears, noses, and tongues, for parading women naked through the streets and selling them into slavery . . . this is what he had been busy doing to his followers. (The Guardian, 8/7/06) Far more brutally, he committed mass genocide against the Taino Indians, atrocities so horrific that many of them committed suicide. He also trafficked in both Indian and African slaves, and his Indian slave trade included a high demand for nine- and ten-year-old girls. Not a good guy after all. Even the folks responsible for the Spanish Inquisition thought he was weird and vicious. To Europeans, Indians and Africans alike, Columbus was no ordinary terrorist; he was a mass murderer, misogynist, slaver, and tyrant.
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Such monstrous qualities aren’t supposed to be celebrated in America, so why would the city council recently choose to promote them with a paid holiday? Is it because the town is named Columbus? Somehow Peach Springs, Arizona, resists devising annual jubilees for either peaches or springs.
Is it because Columbus discovered America? How is it possible to “discover” a place already inhabited?
Then is it to recognize Italians? A statement from Progressive Italians to Transform the Columbus Holiday reads in part, “. . . we absolutely condemn the celebration of Columbus as an Italian cultural icon. Columbus’s exploitation, enslavement, and mass murder in the Caribbean far outweigh any of his nautical achievements”
Perhaps because Columbus Day is a federal holiday it might make good fiscal-year sense for the city to take the day off. Many Native American tribal governments do this, too, and for the same reason, but they usually rename the holiday first, which brings me to a suggestion: Either rename Columbus Day, or give Jeffery Dahmer Day equal time. Yes I know, J.D. Day would mean yet another holiday for us all, but we really wouldn’t want to celebrate that one either, I’m just guessing.
Let’s officially rename Columbus Day “Reconciliation Day” in Columbus, Georgia. To reconcile is a universal way of making things good, and a major city named Columbus is uniquely qualified to help heal a 500-year wound with a simple holiday change. When Columbus was founded in 1828, thousands of Creek and Yuchi people lived in the Chattahoochee Valley. Whites used federal legislation, fraudulent treaties and violence to strip them of their lands. Their forced expulsion from the Chattahoochee Valley was complete by the mid-1830s.
Reconciliation Day could begin by honoring the original Yuchi and Creek Indian peoples who were forced from the Chattahoochee Valley on death marches to what is now Oklahoma. But as individuals we also have a need to reconcile. The holiday could be used to help bring harmony to our personal lives as well, with a conciliatory gesture or maybe even dinner. Florists would love it.
None of us deserves to have our misfortunes officially celebrated by others, especially if they involve mass murder, torture, misogyny and slavery. Moreover, Columbus, Georgia, doesn’t deserve a holiday in honor of a vicious weirdo. Keep the day off but organize, petition, go to city hall, do the right thing and change the name of the holiday. Just do it. And when the city’s now somewhat tarnished reputation is restored as an enlightened cosmopolis of Southern decency, take time on your Reconciliation Day to suitably reflect, savor the good work, reunite or make amends perhaps, and afterward yes . . . when called upon . . . Par-dee!
An internationally known artist, Gary White Deer is a member of the Choctaw Nation of Oklahoma. A former tribal historic preservation officer and tribal cultural resources director, he has been featured in documentaries for Turner Broadcasting, the BBC, PBS, and Irish Television. He will be speaking Tues., Oct. 21 at 6:30 p.m. at the Columbus Public Library on the issue of whether to celebrate Columbus Day. Columbus Councilor Julius Hunter will speak on why he thinks we should celebrate the holiday.