Confronting Christopher Columbus

Monday ushers in Columbus Day, an event that irritates indigenous folks in North America.

Particularly vexing is the well-worn trope that Columbus “discovered” the continent.  

Christopher Columbus offers a convenient target for our wrath but I can think of many other individuals who have caused grief among tribal people.

Columbus and the Indian Maiden by Constantino Brumidi, Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons

For example, Samuel Morton classified people according to skull size in the 19th Century, placing American Indians at the lowest rung of intelligence based on brain size.

Such stereotypes about Native intelligence pervaded scientific thought for decades and continues today.

But the most pervasive harm occurs at a more macro level.

Rarely does one individual—even Columbus or Morton—create misery for an entire population.

What is necessary for the harms to be etched in memory and practice are all the folks who continue to mount the stereotypes.

We are all keepers of the flame and it’s up to us to rip apart the myths when they appear.

This Columbus Day I pledge to remind others that a thriving and intelligent indigenous population called North America home for thousands of years prior to the arrival of the conquerors.

And we are still here.

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