Ah, Columbus Day.
It’s a national holiday, and another paid day off for many folk, so we tend not to question it too closely. It’s not a deeply serious holiday like Memorial Day, where we (optimally) pause to reflect on those who have died while serving in the military, it’s Columbus Day, celebrating the guy who discovered America and tussled with Bugs Bunny in that one cartoon. The day seems pretty innocuous, until you realize it isn’t.
Columbus Day became a national holiday in 1934 as a result of lobbying on the part of the Knights of Columbus. Like other things the Knights of Columbus lobbied for, such as the addition of the words “under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in 1951, Columbus Day wasn’t such a great idea, (because Columbus wasn’t such a great guy.)
When Columbus first met the Native Americans, he marveled that they had never seen a sword, and wrote, “They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance…. They would make fine servants…. With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Putting his words into action, Columbus proceeded to do just that.
Columbus enslaved, murdered, raped and mutilated the Native Americans he met in his quest for gold. Bartolomé de las Casas wrote, upon visiting the region while Columbus was governor, that the Spaniards under Columbus “…”thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.”
Other witnesses corroborate the brutality of Columbus. He was a monster.
To help counter the myth around Columbus and the quell the celebration of a murderous slave trader, a new holiday to “promote Native American culture and commemorate the history of Native American peoples” was organized to also occur on the second Monday of October, Indigenous People’s Day. In Rhode Island, the main celebration of this counter-Columbus day is PRONK!, The Providence Honk Festival held at India Point Park from 3-10 pm.
PRONK! is a free, family-friendly, all volunteer-run, outdoor music festival, featuring brass and drum-based street bands playing alongside local performance groups. For the past five years the festival has brought internationally performing bands to Providence while highlighting local talent, neighborhood flavor and community accomplishments. This day-long celebration of music and community activism, in the spirit of the Boston-based HONK!, is held on Indigenous Peoples Day (aka “Columbus Day”) each October.
PRONK! is awesome fun, and should not be missed.
Oatmeal cartoonist Michael Inman also has a suggestion regarding Columbus Day. He suggests calling it Bartolomé Day in honor of Bartolomé de las Casas, who I mention above as an eyewitness to the atrocities of Columbus. I don’t want to give away the comic, which should be required reading, but suffice it to say that Bartolomé de las Casas was a guy whose life is worth celebrating. He was a heroic priest that Catholics can be proud to call their own. He had his faults, like all men, but casual genocide wasn’t one of them. Click the first panel below to read the rest of this great comic.