In a resolution passed 4-1 last night which describes the Columbus expedition to America as “brutal history,” the Fargo City Commission banned Columbus Day and replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day.
Columbus is “somebody that doesn’t deserve any recognition,” Commissioner Mike Williams is quoted as saying.
One of the supporters of the change – Don Warne, director of the Master of Public Health Program at North Dakota State University – cited the historical inaccuracy of the holiday.
>As an example, Warne pointed out the flaws in the notion that Columbus discovered America: Another European beat him to it by landing in Newfoundland, and, Warne added, “Columbus never set foot in what is now the United States.”
Warne drew laughter and applause when he mocked the idea that Columbus, who landed in the Caribbean, could discover a place with pre-existing residents.
“I’m actually the first Lakota to go to medical school at Stanford University,” Warne said. Therefore, he was the man who discovered Stanford, he argued.
These are fair points. I remember learning in grade school that Columbus “discovered America,” but that’s simply not accurate given the presence of indigenous people already on the North American continent not to mention earlier European explorations by my Scandinavian ancestors.
But if historical accuracy is our goal, are we serving it well by replacing one sort of myopic and narrow-minded perspective with another?
Because words like “myopic” and “narrow minded” certainly describe those who would have us believe that Columbus’ only legacy is a brutal one. Columbus, after all, was just one of the beginnings of European exploration and expansion into North America. To pretend as of those things would never have happened absent Columbus, to pretend as though the hostility between European settlers and Native American tribes wasn’t inevitable as cultures collided, is simply foolish.
We are replacing a holiday that venerates Columbus as a hero with one intended to portray him as nothing but a villain.
Given the complex realities of the history around Columbus, specifically, and European settlement in the “new world” generally I’m not sure why we should believe that one is any more enlightened than the other.
UPDATE: Here’s the full resolution passed by the city.