Columbus Day Taino

Modern-day Taíno. Photo courtesy Lexus Whitfield.

For mainly Indigenous folks in South and North America, Columbus Day comes with a lot of trauma, grief and heartache. It’s extremely difficult to exist in a world that has killed your ancestors. Sometimes it’s hard to see what colonialism has done to the Americas and the world as a whole.

This Columbus Day, it’s important that we continue to fight against colonialism and defend Native people and the land that belongs to us. Here are 4 ways you can do just that!

1. Understand the actual history of Christopher Columbus.

The story goes that Columbus discovered America, like we all were taught in our middle-school history classes. That, however, isn’t totally the case.

“The Taíno were the first Native Americans to encounter the Spanish. Columbus recorded in his diary that the natives ‘would easily be made Christians because it seemed to me that they had no religion.’ … At the time of first contact with the Spanish, the Taíno world stretched across the Caribbean Islands for more than a thousand miles. The Taíno, part of the Arawak language group, had arrived on the islands more than 2,000 years earlier from South America. By 700 CE, they occupied the Lesser Antilles and Puerto Rico. They then pushed into the Greater Antilles-Hispaniola, Jamaica, and Cuba.” –Ojibwa of Native American Netroots

In 1492, Columbus was loaned his three infamous ships from the King and Queen of Spain, in the hope of reaching China or India. According to Healing-Arts, two months after his crew set sail, they neared the shore of what is now the Caribbean. The indigenous peoples, the Taíno, had never seen white men or people with clothes or big ships; they thought these folks were from heaven. Columbus wrote that he wanted to convert all these “savages” to Christianity.

After the Santa Maria sank, a fort was built for the 39 men who had to stay behind while Columbus returned to Spain with the salvaged wood from the ship. These sailors would often rape the women and children and steal whatever they wanted. Columbus returned to Spain, where the king and queen gave him seventeen more ships, supplies, livestock and more to take back and colonize the land. As many as 1,200 men signed on for the voyage. Upon his return, he found his 39 men gone, and their fort — La Navidad — burned down. The Taíno had eliminated the men to protect their people.

Columbus vowed to find Caonabo, a Taíno leader, and retaliate. From that day forward, life as the Taíno knew it was over. Columbus’ crew forced everyone over 14 to work in the gold mines, and those who refused were murdered. Anyone who didn’t meet their quota had their hands cut off, and the women were used however the Spaniards wished.

The Taíno were beaten, raped, enslaved, killed and many starved to death; some even took their own lives to escape. Since he didn’t have enough gold, Columbus took 500 Taíno to be sold in the slave market in Seville, Spain. Over 250 of them died on the way. After the king and queen heard about how badly Columbus had failed, he was sent back to Spain in chains and forced to go to trial for his mismanagement of the islands.

2. Take action to rename Columbus Day “Indigenous People’s Day.”

In 1992, Berkeley, California did just that in protest of colonialism from the Europeans, and to raise awareness of the genocide of the Native American people through murder, disease, forced assimilation, etc.

Related: Meet the Native Women at the Heart of the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests

In the last few years, 26 cities throughout the United States have followed suit. Cities like Cambridge, Massachusetts, Santa Fe, New Mexico, Seattle, Washington and St. Paul, Minnesota, have established Indigenous People’s Day (just to name a few. Even outside of the U.S., countries like Brazil and the Philippines recognize Indigenous People’s Day. Abolishing Columbus Day is extremely important. Doing so gives vital attention to the indigenous folks while also raising awareness about the struggles we face.

3. Understand the statistics.

Understanding the statistics on the disappearances of Native women, the suicide rates among indigenous youth, incarceration rates, etc. is important because all of these are direct products of hundreds of years of genocide and cultural cleansing. These suicides are still murders, because we are constantly being suffocated under the weight of colonialism.

4. Learn ways you can help.

Learn ways you can help with direct actions for Native rights and liberation. Find ways you can connect with communities and lend aid or resources. For example, with the Dakota Access Pipeline happening, learn ways you can assist, like donating money or supplies to the people on the front lines.

This also includes using your privileges to help folks gain institutional access, holding non-Native people accountable for their anti-Indigeneity and understanding the space you may take up as a non-Native person.

Columbus day

Reckoning with colonial privilege. Artist unknown.

It’s no secret that recognizing Columbus Day fuels white supremacy. Continuing to decolonize is crucial. Hundreds of years later, the destruction is still being felt and it’s still happening. It’s important to recognize that the colonization that North America has experienced is different than what the Taíno experienced. They have left completely different impacts. It’s vital we know this history, especially since the history most of us learn in school is extremely white-washed.

This isn’t an exhaustive list. There are so many other ways you can help advocate, show solidarity for Native people, contribute to direct actions and work in solidarity with Indigenous freedom fighters and water and land protectors on our way to full liberation. Look around, and you’ll find them.

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