Today we celebrate Columbus Day and Indigenous People Day. File photo

A little history about Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day

Editors Note: I recognize I am writing about what has become a controversial holiday in my great land. I also recognize some in our community will surely allege I am getting very near or maybe even crossing over the line into what they might call Critical Race Theory by writing this story. Hold on, now. Let me assure you, this is history, and knowing our history doesn’t make me hate my country, believe that White people or Christians are evil or bad or that I want to turn our nation over to the most recent hated group du jour. Don’t be ridiculous. History is simply history. If we do not know and understand our history, we are doomed to make the same mistakes over and over and over again, as they say. Truth is — I love my country and I wish no ill to befall it or any of its people, especially those with whom I disagree. We are all in this together, putting one foot before the other moving into the future for our common good. The only political statement I will make today is that if our country really was and always has been completely perfect from the very moment of its inception, as some CRT supporters argue, that obviously leaves us with nowhere to go, nothing to improve. From where I stand, I see a whole lot of things we could do better. I see a lot of things a little fixing would benefit. Even the Framers noted America is a noble experiment, a work in progress. I also agree with a point made by one of my history professors in college — we must judge historical figures by the norms of their time, not by ours. A normal, everyday behavior or belief system in the past may be offensive to us today, but it’s unfair and unproductive to impose our modern standards on historical figures and their conduct. And finally, I issue a simple challenge. If you disagree with any of the information in this story, I ask you to research it for yourself before you condemn it. If you find an error, email me at swilliams.com or give me a call at (530) 310-0459 so we can talk. If you find an error in this story, just let me know and I will gladly correct it for all to see on lassennews.com.

Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day
If you’re trying to contact federal governmental agencies or checking your mailbox, you won’t be successful today — federal government agencies are closed for the Columbus Day holiday — celebrated each year in America on the second Monday in October.

Believe it or not, only 16 states observe Columbus Day as a state holiday. Here in California, the second Monday in October is Indigenous Peoples Day, thanks to a 2019 proclamation by Governor Gavin Newsom, but it is not a state holiday.

We all remember that sing-songy rhyme they taught us in elementary school —”In 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue… ” That discovery of the New World is the reason for today’s holiday.

So, Christopher Columbus (an anglicization of the Latin Christophorus Columbus) discovered the New World on Friday, Oct. 12, 1492 — a world already inhabited by Indigenous people with their own cities, governments and nations.  Some scholars estimate the pre-contact population at 112 million. By 1650 only 158 years later — they numbered fewer than 5 million. Researcher David Stannard called the invasion, conquest and colonization of the New World “the worst human holocaust the world had ever witnessed.”

Even today some believe Columbus sailed west to go east, as he put it in his log, to prove the world was round. That’s pretty darn funny. Centuries before the birth of Christ, sailors who figured out how to navigate using the sun and stars realized their calculations only worked if the earth were round. Why, they even accurately computed the planet’s circumference! When you see those old woodcuts of the sailors fearing they might sail off the edge of the world, consider that what they probably feared was sailing so far south they lost sight of the North Star, their always reliable point of reference. They knew the world wasn’t flat and they knew they were in no danger of sailing off the edge. But without the sight of the North Star, they could find themselves hopelessly lost. Notice how the explorers stuck right to Africa’s west coast as they sailed south once they lost sight of the North Star.

What Columbus sought was a new trade route to the Far East. In fact, he always believed he had landed in India, not the New World.

Spanish rulers King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella financed Columbus’ journeys, and he made four voyages to the New World. In the first, Columbus landed on an island in the Bahamas. Some scholars consider this the beginning of the modern era, the beginning of globalization.

Columbus sent a message to his patrons: “There I found very many islands, filled with innumerable people, and I have taken possession of them all for their Highnesses, done by proclamation and with the royal standard unfurled, and no opposition was offered to me.”

Just imagine, a king’s representatives could simply plant a flag in the ground and claim the Indigenous people’s lands in the New World — with the church’s partnership and blessing. Did you know the Pope once drew a line across a map dividing the New World between the Spanish and the Portuguese? Yep, according to the 1494 Treaty of Tordesillas, Pope Alexander VI granted all the land west of Columbus’ discovery to the Spanish and all the lands east to Portugal. Of course, the Indigenous people in the New World had no standing or say in the treaty, which became the basis of “The Discovery Doctrine” that gave explorers the right to claim for their king any land they landed upon not populated by Christian people.

According to christianhistoryinsitutue.org, Columbus envisioned a three-part plan to utilize the New World — “In his brief journal entry, Columbus foreshadowed later Spanish intentions for the Americas. First, the Spanish would claim already-inhabited land and extract its wealth for themselves. Second, they would incorporate indigenous populations into colonial society as servants, captives and slaves. And third, they would Christianize them, not hesitating to use coercion as they deemed necessary.”

So you see, this day marks both the beginning of the New World as we know it and the end of the Indigenous people’s world they had inhabited for many thousands of years. Was it discovery or invasion and conquest?

I leave it totally up to you to make of this what you will as we celebrate this Columbus Day/Indigenous Peoples Day.