When I attended elementary school, I was taught that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 seeking a passage to India. He was hailed as a hero for discovering the New World. As I grew older, some facts came to light. He didn’t land in what is now the U.S., but rather various islands in the Caribbean, and as for “discovering the New World,” there were people already living on these islands so discovery was in the eyes of the beholder and this land wasn’t new to the people who had lived here for thousands of years.
When I became an educator several years ago, I was faced with even more disturbing truths. Now that I was teaching history to young people, I wanted to learn more about these events. What I found out is that Columbus enslaved and killed the Taino people who were living on the islands where he landed. From that initial contact an unjust system was born in the Americas. The Indigenous people were in the way of expansion by European countries so they were enslaved, killed, and in the U.S., removed from their homelands to reservations. We may have romantic notions of Columbus, but we know better now. It is our job to become educated about these injustices.
I support Vice Mayor Elizabeth Bennett-Parker and Councilor Mo Seifeldein’s proposal to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the city calendar to commemorate Native Americans. This would give us an opportunity to celebrate Indigenous people and advocate for their rights, which are continually threatened.
In the 2010 census, 5.2 million people identified as Native American or Alaska Native, either alone or in combination with other races, a 26.7% increase from the 2000 census. Native people are here and deserve a voice. It is long past time to give them one.