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October 9 2017

On Columbus Day, Give Him a Break

by Patrice Lee Onwuka

Today is Columbus Day, but you might not know that if you live in a school system such as mine in Maryland where there’s no celebration of the explorer who discovered the Americas. The kids filed to school like any other Monday – despite this being a federal holiday.

Columbus has become another unfortunate symbol of divisiveness. Either you celebrate the achievements of Christopher Columbus or you abhor the exploitation that followed his discoveries.

As I write today in the Washington Examiner, people heap coals of fire on Columbus for the horrendous treatment of indigenous people he met here – and it was abhorrent.

However, life for indigenous people wasn’t a paradise before Europeans colonized the Caribbean and the Americas. As a descendant of such people, I say give Columbus a break:  

There's a belief that life was honky-dory for inhabitants of the Americas before Columbus violently disrupted their peaceful bliss. That's false.

Although I am an American citizen, I was born on the island of Montserrat in the Caribbean. Christopher Columbus sighted my tiny island in 1493 during his second voyage. He named the island after the Monastery of Montserrat in Catalonia, Spain. (Two hundred years later, Irish indentured servants and African slaves were brought by the British to settle the island, and it remains a British colony to this day.)

Montserrat had at one time been inhabited by gentle Arawak Indians, but this lush green utopia was not a paradise. The island was thought to be uninhabited when Columbus encountered it, because Indians on board his ship said another tribe, the Carib Indians, had eaten all of the island's inhabitants.

The Caribs were a warlike tribe and expert navigators who carried out distant raids in their canoes to expand their empire across the Caribbean. They were known to eat human flesh. They too were people of their times.

Columbus' voyages expanded European imperialism and brought the horrors of slavery, rape, theft, and murder to indigenous people. It also cleared the way for colonization and eventually the founding of America.

If we indict Columbus for the atrocities that he and his men perpetrated, shouldn't we also indict the warring tribes who executed bloodthirsty raids on their peaceful neighbors?

Columbus belongs to the complex history of our nation. We should acknowledge that history but to hold people of the past hostage to our modern standards is unfair. Most Americans agree with that too.

So on this day, designated by President Benjamin Harrison in 1892 as a day for Americans to "cease from toil and devote themselves to such exercises as may best express honor to the discoverer and their appreciation of the great achievements of the four completed centuries of American life,” let’s find a way do that.

Independent Women’s Forum’s mission is to improve the lives of Americans by increasing the number of women who value free markets and personal liberty. Sister organization of Independent Women’s Voice.
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