The District of Columbus Just Cancelled Columbus Day

The District of Columbus Just Cancelled Columbus Day
AP Photo/Julio Cortez

Having apparently solved all the urgent problems besetting D.C. – crime, poverty, traffic, homelessness, public schools that don’t educate, etc. – the D.C. Council - whose city is actually named for Columbus! got down to the important business of misrepresenting history and insulting millions of Americans. They did this in one fell swoop by renaming Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples’ Day.

How dumb is that move? Let us channel poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning and count the ways.

First – who exactly are these “indigenous people” for whom we are renaming a day meant to honor one of the great, courageous explorers of history? Webster’s dictionary defines indigenous as “produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment”. Well unless the “cradle of civilization” was in North America instead of Mesopotamia and Ethiopia, there were no “peoples” produced, growing or living natively or naturally in North America.

Archeologists best guess is that the first people – most definitely not “indigenous” – appeared in North America some 15,000 years ago by migrating over the Bering Land Bridge – a solid passage that led from Siberia to Alaska and down into Canada. The other route was from Central America into the American Southwest.

So the “first Americans” were most likely Asian and perhaps Caucasian in the classic meaning of the term – from central/western Asia and the Caucasus regions such as Georgia, Azerbaijan and Armenia. Or they were Aztec and Mayan, but they are most unlikely to have been what we now call “native Americans."

I wasn’t at the D.C. Council meeting, but I’ll bet a dollar to your dime that Azerbaijanis, Armenians, Georgians, Aztecs and Mayans were not mentioned among the aggrieved peoples we must appease by distorting and erasing history.

And distorting and erasing history is exactly what the D.C. Council is trying to do. If it were in fact about recognizing the inhabitants of North America at the time of Columbus’ discovery the Council could have designated another day for Indigenous People and left Columbus Day intact. That however is not “woke” enough. Only the Stalinist method of erasing all evidence of the past you don’t like would do. Ignorance was indeed raining at that meeting.

It also reigned at the meeting as the Council appears ignorant that it is without the legal authority to change a Federal holiday. Perhaps it comes as news to the Council Members, but the District is not a city or a state. It is a Federal District, and therefore must follow Federal rules unless it has been given specific authority by Congress to do otherwise.

While all presidents have issued proclamations celebrating Columbus Day, this one from President Barack Obama stands out for its balance:

“Columbus's historic voyage ushered in a new age, and since, the world has never been the same. His journey opened the door for generations of Italian immigrants who followed his path across an ocean in pursuit of the promise of America. Like Columbus, these immigrants and their descendants have shaped the place where they landed. Italian Americans have enriched our culture and strengthened our country. They have served with honor and distinction in our Armed Forces, and today, they embrace their rich heritage as leaders in our communities and pioneers of industry.

“On Columbus Day, we reflect on the moment the world changed. And as we recognize the influence of Christopher Columbus, we also pay tribute to the legacy of Native Americans and our Government's commitment to strengthening their tribal sovereignty. We celebrate the long history of the American continents and the contributions of a diverse people, including those who have always called this land their home and those who crossed an ocean and risked their lives to do so. With the same sense of exploration, we boldly pursue new frontiers of space, medicine, and technology and dare to change our world once more.”

The proclamation then went on to validate the federal holiday, which by law, applies in practice not just to federal employees but to the District of Columbia, whose affairs - for better or worse - are governed by the US government. So, the DC City Council’s actions are technically illegal. But I digress.

The truly sad thing about the Council’s PC pandering is that it is so unnecessary and needlessly divisive. Establish an indigenous peoples’ day if you wish – you won’t find me objecting. Our Native Americans were treated atrociously in the past. Abolishing the hideously paternal and socialistic current “reservation” system and thereby treating them as first class citizens would do far more for Native Americans than empty resolutions passed by self-important, historically ignorant politicians.

But leave Columbus Day alone. Columbus was a uniquely brave and entrepreneurial man. He endured many turndowns before he persuaded Queen Isabella to finance his expedition. According to his journal he had serious moments of self-doubt, and because provisions were running low might have turned around to return to Portugal had land not been sighted on October 12th.

Columbus’s discovery of a sea route to America united civilizations by transforming the Atlantic from an insuperable barrier into a highway of trade and ideas, and created a seismic shift in global economic and political power from Asia to Europe, from the Indian Ocean to the Atlantic.

Columbus was not perfect, but as Osage Nation member Patrick Mason observed in “the attacks are unfair to the man who was far better than most for his time.” Columbus was a man of courage, conviction and honor and deserves to be celebrated as such.

Our native Americans were also not perfect, but were and are people of courage, conviction and honor and deserve to be celebrated as such. Let’s stop arguing and do the right thing – celebrate both, as several Italian-American organizations have suggested. But don’t distort or attempt to erase history, which can only help us further explore the world and its many complexities.

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