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In America the people who are deemed “other” are being controlled by the white men in power. Native Americans are fighting to keep their land out of the hands of those who are stealing it away for their own personal gain. The government has little sense of legitimate order to it.
Am I referring to America in 1492 or 2019? Honestly, it is hard for even me to say.
Of course, we’ve come so far in the past few centuries. We have electricity! We have the Internet! We have smartphones smaller than our hands that have more power and access to knowledge than anything in human history! We have nuclear weapons! We’ve come so much further than anything people could have imagined when they first arrived in America.
However, not all people have basic rights, even in America — the self-purported bastion of the Western world. One would think that in the over 500 years since Columbus “sailed the ocean blue,” we would have made more progress in terms of equality for all people. One would hope that women and men would be treated equally. One would hope that Native Americans would no longer be demanding basic rights from the government. One would hope a lot of things that are simply not true.
In some ways, it is alarming how many parallels do still exist between 21st century America and 15th century America. In 1492, European colonizers came to this country and claimed it for their own. They decided to abuse Native American people and take their land away without a legitimate claim. Then they silenced them so that they would have no ability to actually protest any of these changes.
And today? Only two years ago, U.S. President Donald Trump authorized the Keystone XL Pipeline regardless of the effects it would have on Native American water supplies or the fact that it would be built near “culturally sensitive sites in North Dakota.” Native Americans still have poverty rates of 26 percent and a median income that is only 69 percent of the national average.
Naturally, the United States government recognizes the second Monday in October as Columbus Day. It recognizes it as such in order to ensure that we never forget the “amazing” accomplishments of Christopher Columbus. The man who enslaved over one thousand people on Hispaniola — not even taking into account the hundreds of thousands who were enslaved in the next few decades by his followers. The man who slaughtered people in order to stem rebellions by those who simply wanted their own land and autonomy restored. The man who introduced so many new diseases to these populations that his arrival was essentially equivalent to waging biological warfare. The man who has been given credit for discovering the New World — a land where an estimated 60 million people were already settled.
But of course we should want to celebrate Columbus Day instead of Indigenous Peoples’ Day. If there are going to be only ten official federal holidays, it makes sense that one would be for Christopher Columbus. He basically is just as important and revered as Martin Luther King, Jr. and George Washington — the only other two people who get a federal holiday for themselves. Veterans may get a day as a collective group, but of course the service they’ve made to this country as a whole is equivalent to Christopher Columbus’.
Why don’t we hand out days to some other people? Why not give Andrew Jackson a celebration because, even if his actions did lead to the Trail of Tears, he also championed the rights of the common man? Or Richard Nixon, who founded the Environmental Protection Agency, even if he was also the only president to ever resign?
Maybe as we reflect on this most recent Columbus Day, we should think about the fact that according to true American values, no one is ever owed anything. Instead, one must earn their spot — or at least that’s what we proclaim to others when asserting our superiority. And while this principle may have proved not to be true in recent situations, it is still a core principle of this country.
So why don’t we hold Columbus Day to these same standards?
Riya Sood ’20 is a Statistics concentrator in Leverett House. Her column appears on alternate Fridays.
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