Glenn Morris: Why activists are challenging Columbus Day in Colorado

Roundup: Talking About History

[Glenn Morris, member of the Leadership Council of the American Indian Movement of Colorado <http://www.coloradoaim.org/>; . Attorney and Associate Professor of Political Science at University of Colorado at Denver. ]

GLENN MORRIS: Columbus Day began -- most people don't know -- as a state holiday in Colorado in 1907. But what's more important for people to understand is the ideology behind Columbus Day and why there is a Columbus Day in the United States or in Colorado. And there's been a lot of discussion lately about Hugo Chavez at the United Nations, when he raised up Noam Chomsky's book, Hegemony or Survival.

And if we could begin a little bit by just reducing the terms “hegemony” and “ideology” to their simplest forms: if an ideology is a set of ideas that allows a nation or a people to describe reality in terms that are comfortable for them, but more importantly, that describes the world as it should be, and hegemony is driven by a national ideology that is so comprehensive that it becomes almost invisible, like water to fish or air to human beings, and in a sense then, we can understand Columbus Day as a hegemonic tool, the way that Chomsky uses the term, because it makes no historical sense to have a national holiday to Columbus in a country that he never visited, in a state that he never knew existed.

And so, we have to ask the very simple question: why does the holiday even exist? And it exists in part to advance a national ideology of celebrating invasion, conquest and colonialism. And the proponents of the Columbus Day holiday in Colorado and Columbus parades, and so on, make no bones about the fact that they're celebrating the colonization of the Americas and, in fact, have told us on several occasions, “Look, we're going to have this celebration. We're going to have these parades to Columbus. And let's get one thing straight,” they say to us. “This is not your country anymore. This is our country now. And you'd better get with the program.” So, for us, the celebration of Columbus, who was an African slave trader prior to coming to the Americas, then began the colonization of the Americas --


GLENN MORRIS: Well, Columbus sailed for the Portuguese on the Gold Coast of Africa, brought back gold and slaves to the Portuguese slave market in Portugal. That's why when he arrived in the Caribbean, it became so easy for him to resort to his old practices and began to enslave Indian people to bring to the slave market in Seville. And so, we believe that Columbus as a national icon is a mistake and sends certainly the wrong message to schoolchildren about what is heroic about the history of this hemisphere. Certainly, the heroism of Columbus does not warrant a national holiday. In fact, he wasn't a hero. He was a slave-trading Indian killer. And so, that's why, in the birthplace of Columbus Day here in Denver, it's such a big issue. Next year will be the centennial of the holiday. And we intend to make that a major focal point nationally....
Read entire article at Transcript of an interview posted by democracynow.org

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More Comments:

Richard Bruneau - 10/13/2008

Yes, make Columbus Day “Indigenous Peoples Day,” then we can celebrate a whole group that practiced slavery and killed a lot more Indians and we can even add human sacrifice and cannibalism to their historical totem pole.

Jonathan Dresner - 10/13/2008

In Hawai'i, it's "Explorers' Day."

In Berkeley, if memory serves, it's "Indigenous People's Remembrance Day" or something like that.

James W Loewen - 10/13/2008

South Dakota has shown us the way. Simply rename it "Native American Day" (or "American Indian Day," depending upon the preferences of Native folks in your state). Same break, same sales, but now the day honors a group we (especially here in DC with our professional football team) too often DIShonor.

Geoffrey Walter Symcox - 10/12/2006

I agree that Columbus Day is a dubious thing to celebrate. But I'm not sure that the information here about Columbus's slaving activities is correct. He claimed to have visited the Portuguese fort at El Mina, but he did not say what he did there. I have seen no evidence that he traded in either gold or slaves when he was there (if in fact he was -- this is disputed by some people): one might hypothesize that he did, but there is no documentary proof that I know of. Has Mr Morris any hard evidence? If so I'd be very interested to see it. Columbus did engage in trading slaves, but they were Tainos rounded up in 1494-5 on the island of Hispaniola and shipped to Spain -- not Africans.