Columbus Day. The day when Christopher Columbus discovered the Americas. Although there had been some “preliminary discoveries” prior to Columbus’s voyage (e.g. the Viking explorations), his expedition across the Atlantic would have a major impact in world history.
Columbus Day is one of the most significant days in the history of human exploration. After all, Columbus was looking for an alternate route to Asia, thus little did he know he would discover new lands during his journey.
Despite this achievement, Columbus is vilified by some people who claim he committed genocide (or at least paved the way for it). But contrary to such claims, Columbus did not have genocide on his mind when he arrived in the Americas. And although subsequent expeditions and the colonization of the New World resulted in the deaths of many Indians, there was never any genocide.
Here are a few facts to consider.
• Many of the Indian deaths were the result of being exposed to diseases inadvertently brought to the Americas by European explorers — diseases to which they were not immune. As tragic as the deaths were, it was not genocide, because the spread of disease was not intentional.
• Many Indian tribes and nations had been at war with each other before and after the arrival of Christopher Columbus. The Lakota (a.k.a. the Teton Sioux) had dominated the Great Plains, the Caribs migrated from South America to some of the Caribbean Islands and pushed out the Arawaks (who were the native inhabitants), and the Aztecs dominated present-day Mexico.
• Although Columbus and subsequent settlers in the New World enslaved some of the Indians, slavery was not unknown in the Americas prior to Columbus’s arrival. Many Indians were enslaving each other, as well as engaging in human sacrifice and cannibalism.
• Most of the intentional killings were committed by the Spaniards. However, not everyone in Spain was on board. A priest named Bartolome de las Casas spoke out against the enslavement and killing of the Indians, and later against the enslavement of Africans.
• Colonization of the Americas resulted in alliances between European nations and Indian tribes. Examples include the British being allies with the Iroquois, while the French had the Algonquin as allies.
• The Founding Fathers opted to maintain good relations with the various Indian nations. And while relations deteriorated in the decades following the War of 1812, the death toll of Indians from the subsequent wars was only a few thousand. Tragic, but not genocide, especially since not everyone in the United States believed in the notion of “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”. The same can be said for the rest of the Western Hemisphere.
Thus, Christopher Columbus can be honored instead of being vilified.