Columbus Day

Indigenous Peoples Day vs Columbus Day

on October 14, 2019

Monday was the federal holiday commemorating Christopher Columbus. But many progressive jurisdictions, encouraged by liberal activists including some church groups, have replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day.

The reasoning is that Columbus was a European colonizer whose encounter with America led to subjection and destruction for native peoples. This theme is in sync with contemporary political correctness that demonizes Western Civilization while portraying other cultures as victims. Identity politics, which divides peoples between oppressors and victims, with almost no possibility of reconciliation or atonement, is supported by this theme.

Demonizing one culture while sacralizing all others replaces history with ideology. It also offers a spiritual mythology at odds with the Christian narrative, which insists that all peoples are equally sinners by nature. Sin is not spread by a particular culture but is intrinsic to all cultures.

Ironically, many Enlightenment era Europeans foreshadowed today’s political correctness by imagining that native peoples were sinless or at least less sinful because they were not tainted by European civilization. Their Enlightenment humanism, which rejected or minimized Christian teachings about fallen humanity, created the myth of the romanticized “noble savage.” These theorists were typically scribblers ensconced in Europe. Persons having actual contacts with native people soon realized that human nature in every culture is recognizably similar.

Of course, recognizing the historical importance of native cultures is laudable. Last year a new monument in Richmond, Virginia was dedicated to Virginia’s native peoples. It’s called “Mantle,” based in design partly on the deerskin coat, embroidered with seashells, reputedly worn by the great chief of the Powhatan Confederacy that ruled eastern Virginia when the first English arrived.

That chief, Wahunsonacock, father of Pocahontas, assembled his empire of about 30 tribes in the usual imperial way. He conquered and intimidated weaker tribes. Sometimes he exterminated enemy tribes, in what we today would call genocide. He practiced slavery. He tortured and executed when deemed necessary. His subjects played by his rules or got their heads bashed in, or maybe got burned to death.

Powhatan’s Confederacy was not a democracy. There were no protected individual rights as we understand them. Individualism itself would not be recognized. All persons were to conform to dictated tribal customs. Everybody worshiped the obligatory tribal gods communally, and practiced the tribal rites, without possibility of dissent. It was strictly hierarchical. Men were warriors and hunters, while women gardened, cooked and raised children.

If the Powhatan Confederacy existed today, it would be likened to ISIS or the Taliban. It was after all a totalitarian religious cult that enslaved, tortured and conquered enemies without any more mercy than strategically necessary. Nobody today would want to live under Powhatan.

Yet there is a new monument in Richmond, effectively honoring Powhatan, a warrior who trafficked in slaves, among other brutalities, even as other older monuments are disparaged because they honor persons complicit in slavery. This monument to native tribes belongs in Richmond. These tribes and their history should be commemorated as part of our story.

But they shouldn’t be enshrouded in hagiography and mythology, similar to the “Lost Cause” hagiography and mythology that enshrouded rising Confederate monuments in Richmond 130 years ago, in that era’s form of political correctness. Every culture and historical narrative, if honest, has a dark side, because all peoples are fallen.

The full truth, to the extent possible, should be told about Columbus, European colonization, and European civilization. But that story should not stand apart from the full narrative of other cultures with their own depravities.

Today’s critique of European civilization primarily relies, ironically, on the standards and self criticism of European civilization. Nobody today wants really to abandon that civilization to return to native cultures of past centuries. For all its moral failures, European Civilization, informed by the legacy of biblical religion and the Hebraic Deity, exceptionally has sought a sustainable vision of human equality and dignity.

Columbus the man combined courage and mendacity. But providentially, the civilization in the Americas that his discoveries facilitated ultimately offered hope and opportunity to hundreds of millions in ways that Powhatan’s Confederacy never could have.

  1. Comment by Jonny Clark on October 15, 2019 at 4:32 am

    Absurd nonsensical article. This makes more sense:
    “Columbus discovered America like that asteroid discovered the dinosaurs. Contrary to what you may have thought, Columbus did not arrive on the shores of an empty wilderness, but on the shores of a world more populous than Europe. Tenochtitlan (Mexico City) was larger than any European city. But armed with guns, steel, and germs, and driven by the conquistador’s lust for gold and slaves, the population of the Americas was decimated. When Columbus first encountered the inhabitants of the “new” world, he wrote this in his log book… “They do not bear arms, and do not know them. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane. They would make fine slaves. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Well isn’t that nice. Columbus’ initial impulse upon encountering the indigenous other was to think, “Hey, these people would make good slaves!” Columbus was barely off the boat before the native inhabitants were being captured and sold into slavery. Columbus wrote, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” Apparently Columbus was a religious man…proposing slave trade in the name of the Trinity! Modern scholarship places the population of Hispaniola in 1492 at no less than four million people. By 1520 it had fallen to 20,000. Do the math! The Niña, Pinta, and Santa María had brought Death to the Americas. As you may have guessed I’m not so keen on making Columbus the object of any kind of holiday (holy day). So what do we do?
    I don’t know.
    Maybe walk softly.
    Be a little sad.
    Be a little mad.
    Feel more than a little conflicted.
    Find a better hero than Christopher Columbus. Because in the end he did not live up to his name “Christ-bearer.”
    Maybe you could replace Christopher Columbus with Francis Xavier—
    If you like your heroes adventurous and well-traveled. Would it be too much to ask that we learn to lament the sins that made our “greatness” possible? At least realize that we are all so deeply implicated in systemic sin that there are no quick fixes and there is no easy answer to the question of what justice looks like. We are all so deeply implicated that we should be quick to ask for mercy and slow to condemn anyone. And… The next time you hear someone espouse Manifest Destiny know for certain that you have heard a mighty and manifest lie.”
    Brian Zahnd

  2. Comment by JR on October 15, 2019 at 11:19 am

    *slow clap*

    Very well done, Brian.
    Well done indeed.

  3. Comment by Steve on October 15, 2019 at 1:50 pm

    Seems hard to make a case for a holiday being named after Christopher Columbus. I understand it was Nixon that made it a federal holiday, so I blame him. He undoubtedly did so for political reasons. The present article really doesn’t discuss Columbus much but European colonization of America generally versus the existing indigenous cultures. He didn’t even get into things like certain Aztec practices (if I’m wrong about the human sacrifice thing, sorry about that). But by engaging in that discussion on the occasion of Columbus Day I suppose Mr. Tooley made himself a sitting duck. But he makes valid points despite the inauspicious circumstances, and I don’t think the points amounted to “manifest destiny”.

  4. Comment by Steve on October 15, 2019 at 3:47 pm

    Correction: Wikipedia says it was FDR that made Columbus Day a federal holiday, but it looks like the date thereof may have been regularized under Nixon. But if I was willing to blame Nixon, I should be willing to blame FDR. But I’m also seeing it was made a national holiday by Harrison, a president about whom I know nothing but am also assume made a bad decision based on politics.

  5. Comment by Steve on October 16, 2019 at 9:14 am

    Apparently the reason for the creation of the Columbus Day national holiday was in response to an incident where a large number of Italian Americans were actually lynched. So, for its time, it was a well meaning, enlightened and progressive thing to do for a despised minority. Maybe we could change it to Frank Sinatra day, but what would be better would be Galileo day. Even better, call it Innovator’s Day, which could honor Galileo and other foremost stem innovators. (One might quibble that Galileo wasn’t American, but neither was Columbus.)

  6. Comment by Steve on October 15, 2019 at 1:58 pm

    Also, your facts appear to be suspect:
    There is still heated debate over the population of Taíno people on the island of Hispaniola in 1492, but estimates range upwards of 750,000

  7. Comment by Steve on October 15, 2019 at 2:01 pm

    I can’t find where you got your 40,000 figure either, but here’s what Wikipedia has to say about the decline in the population:
    “Harsh enslavement by Spanish colonists, as well as redirection of food supplies and labor, had a devastating impact on both mortality and fertility of the Taíno population over the first quarter century.[24] Colonial administrators and Dominican and Hyeronimite priests observed that the search for gold and agrarian enslavement through the encomienda system were depressing population.[24] Demographic data from two provinces in 1514 shows a low birth rate consistent with a 3.5% annual population decline.”

  8. Comment by Steve on October 15, 2019 at 2:05 pm

    Maybe you were referring to this?
    “By 1508, the Taíno population of about 400,000 was reduced to 60,000, and by 1514, only 26,334 remained.”

  9. Comment by Lee D. Cary on October 16, 2019 at 4:41 pm

    Most of us, including me, do not have the strength-of-legs to carry all the sins of those who came to America before us.

    Nor do I feel obligated to do so.

    It’s challenging enough to carry my own, while aiming not to repeat theirs.

  10. Comment by jkumpire on October 15, 2019 at 9:45 am

    Absurd, nonsensical reply to the article. I just wish I had enough time to detail how off base you are.

    But I would simply remind you that in Columbus’ day, Europeans were being sold as slaves, low-intensity wars were going between different civilizations and ethnic groups and the indigenous peoples in the Western Hemisphere were evil.

    He’s not holding up Columbus as a saint, but you obviously believe the peoples he and later explorers discovered were. It is also pretty obvious that if some other ethnic group, religious movement, civilization, or empire other than imperfect Western civilization discovered the New World things here would be a lot different and uglier than they are now across the globe.

    Hopefully you will not blinded by leftist ideology forever.

  11. Comment by Anthony Bradley on October 15, 2019 at 11:09 am

    I’m really saddened by the consequentialism of this post. The ends do justify the means Mark. I’d hate to know what you think about American slavery or the Jim Crow Era.

  12. Comment by Lee D. Cary on October 16, 2019 at 4:13 pm

    Anthony, don’t despair. At the bottom of this page there’s a currently unoccupied safe space just below the POST COMMENT block where you can chill.

  13. Comment by David on October 15, 2019 at 5:04 pm

    Human sacrifice might have been more common in “bible days” than the one instance of Jeptha’s daughter. The Aztecs were well into this, but also had free public education long before the US.

  14. Comment by Lee D. Cary on October 16, 2019 at 4:07 pm

    Yea, David, but did they have free college, free healthcare, free birth control pills, free hypo needles, and other free stuff?

  15. Comment by John Kenyon on October 16, 2019 at 10:58 am

    Good blog. Never, ever easy to transpose history into one.

  16. Comment by Joan Wesley on October 16, 2019 at 1:41 pm

    Talk about a tempest in a teapot. My exposure to Columbus Day has been that it is one of those non-holidays that give some people an extra day off work. Furthermore, there was no malicious intent on the part of Columbus. I have never heard that Columbus set out to discover a “New World” for Europe to conquer and enslave. My understanding is the reason he sailed west to get to the east was to prove that the earth is round not flat; the expectation was he would fall off the edge of earth never to be seen or heard from again. He showed extraordinary courage in doing what he did. He was also the product of the culture in which he was raised. We can acknowledge and learn from the sins of our ancestors and we have to live in the fallout of the aftermath of those sins; but we can never undo what was done. Neither are we required to bear the guilt. As the main thrust of the article so plainly states we are all broken and fall short.

  17. Comment by JR on October 16, 2019 at 2:59 pm

    “My understanding is the reason he sailed west to get to the east was to prove that the earth is round not flat; ”

    No no no.

    He was trying to get paid.

    He wanted to find a shorter route to the Far East, and if successful would be rich beyond imagining.

    It was all about the money.

  18. Comment by Lee D. Cary on October 16, 2019 at 6:00 pm

    JR, you’ll be happy to learn Chris felt largely unrecognized by the royals who dispatched him on his expeditions and died a very sick man.

    yes, yes, yes

  19. Comment by Lee D. Cary on October 16, 2019 at 4:04 pm

    Since several comments above lean heavily on Wikipedia, therein we read that: “The name “Colombia” is derived from the last name of the navigator Christopher Columbus (Italian: Cristoforo Colombo, Spanish: Cristóbal Colón).”

    So, following etymology, and in pursuit of social justice, it only seems fair and reasonable that we, at least:
    1. Change the location of Washington, D.C. to Washington, District of the Patawomeck, (more Wikipedia) since Potomac is “the European spelling of Patawomeck, the Algonquian name of a Native American village on its [meaning the river’s] southern bank.”

    2. Columbia University becomes Patawomeck University – offering, of course, free tuition to all persons related to Patawomecks, living or deceased (the tribe, not the students).

    3. CBS becomes PBS, and the current PBS becomes the FBS (Federal Broadcasting) not to be confused with the Russian FSB which replaced the KGB, maybe.

    4. Columbia casual wear (clothing) becomes Algonquian Wear, which has a nice outdoor color tone to it.

    5. And then there’s British Columbia, Canada where, this year, they celebrated both Columbus Day and their Thanksgiving Day (going back to 43 years before the Pilgrims hit the beach in N. America) on the same day, October 14, 2019. We missed it down here – coulda had a twofer. (This is not per. Wikipedia but, where several of the above comments belong.)

  20. Comment by David on October 17, 2019 at 10:00 am

    But would be still have Colon exams?

  21. Comment by RELD on October 17, 2019 at 8:50 am

    The reason Columbus was trying to find another route to the East was because King Ferd was paying him. Why? So that Spain and other Countries would not have to pay “tribute” to the peoples controlling the seas they would have to sail on the routes they were then using. It was an attempt to reduce expenses.

  22. Comment by carrie on October 17, 2019 at 6:46 pm

    It seems that there are some other ideas we can look at here. We shouldn’t forget that Christopher Columbus (1451) was born two years before the Fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Muslims under Sultan Mehmed II. This destruction and takeover of Constantinople was a horribly tragic event with far, far reaching consequences that would have been felt and talked of even in Genoa, Italy. As a tiny child, Columbus recounts the tears and horror of the grown-ups around him as this news traveled throughout his home city (from Columbus’ “The Book of Prophesies” ). Once this great Christian capital had been taken- and along with it the Haggai Sophia, the largest of Christian churches- there was a great exodus of people fleeing for their lives. Where did they go but to places like Italy? Columbus would have been familiar with their testimonies. Spain was still partially under Muslim control until 1491 when the Iberian Peninsula was a last liberated …and Columbus reminds Queen Isabella and King Ferdinand that he was there to see it in his letters. There were Muslim pirates swarming the Mediterranean at this time, as well. As if that weren’t enough, the Ottoman’s were still advancing to claim Europe. All of Southern Christian Europe was edge waiting for the next possible war; worried that at any time they might be the victims of another Muslim conquest. In addition, we need to remember that Columbus studied sailing in Portugal at Prince Henry’s School of Navigation. This Prince Henry had as the purpose of his school to win Christendom back- especially Jerusalem- by conquering the Muslims. Is it any wonder that maybe, just maybe, Columbus wasn’t entirely motivated to become rich for himself on these voyages? Maybe he really did want to spread the gospel before the Muslim armies came to make mosques and caliphates. Surely, he knew the system of dhimmitude that oppressed, controlled, stole from, and humiliated Christians wherever the sign of the crescent went. After his voyage to the new world, Columbus writes to the royal Sovereigns of Spain that, if possible, they should use any gain in riches made through him to finance the conquest of Jerusalem for the sake of the Church (“The Book of Prophesies”). Perhaps this is worth some thought?

  23. Comment by William on October 21, 2019 at 11:56 am

    Carrie, the fuller context of times and cultures must be considered, where your post compliments Mark’s initial post very well. Thank you both for an unbiased truth that reflects the supremacy of God through the Son Jesus Christ. John 14:6.

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