RCC Honors History Project

Excerpt from “The Trouble With Columbus”

Posted by mcelynrh on March 4, 2009

from Time magazine

By Paul Gray;Cathy Booth/Miami, Anne Hopkins and Ratu Kamlani/New York Monday, Oct. 07, 1991

This rain on the Columbus parade is nothing, though, compared with the storm of outrage that the prospect of quincentennial partying has unleashed among the anti-Columbians. “Our celebration is to oppose,” says Evaristo Nugkuag, a member of the Aguaruna people, who is president of the Coordinating Body for the Indigenous Peoples’ Organizations of the Amazon Basin (COICA), an umbrella group in Lima, Peru. On Oct. 7, in Quetzaltenango, Guatemala, about 1,000 members of COICA and other groups, representing 24 countries in the Western Hemisphere, will gather at a “Continental Encounter” meeting. One of the purposes is to determine strategies to counter the 1992 Columbus celebrations, including the establishment of an “alternative Seville” at a yet to be chosen site in Mexico. Nugkuag thinks such an antimainstream World’s Fair can be an occasion for reflection rather than celebration: “We want to recover our history to affirm our identity, to achieve true independence from exploitation and aggression and to play a role in determining our future.”

Similar protests have been percolating, or even boiling, for some time. When it opened at the University of Florida’s Museum of Natural History two years ago, an exhibit called “First Encounters: Spanish Explorations in the Caribbean and the United States 1492-1570” drew spirited opposition from Native American activists, including Russell Means of the American Indian Movement. “Columbus makes Hitler look like a juvenile delinquent!” yelled demonstrators. COLUMBUS MURDERED A CONTINENT read one of the placards. Last July a group of protesters dressed as South American Indians appeared unannounced in Spain, wearing loincloths, their faces and bodies painted. The invaders peacefully entered the shrine of the nation’s patron saint at Santiago de Compostela. They left flowers and other offerings and a message to ask “forgiveness for those who used his name to conquer, murder and destroy peoples.”

Anti-Columbus sentiments are by no means restricted to the descendants of those who were on hand when the Genoan first showed up. Last year the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the U.S. adopted a resolution suggesting how 1492 should be commemorated: “For the descendants of the survivors of the subsequent invasion, genocide, slavery, ‘ecocide’ and exploitation of the wealth of the land, a celebration is not an appropriate observance of this anniversary.”

The charge that Columbus’ arrival instigated genocide has become a major weapon in the anti-Columbian arsenal. George Tinker, a Native American who teaches at the Iliff School of Theology in Denver, says of the quincentennial plans: “We’re talking about celebrating the great benefit to some people brought by the murder of other people.” Further to Columbus’ discredit, at the bar of contemporary judgment, is his identity as a white European male. Across the U.S., academicians will be jetting to innumerable conferences where they will give papers on the colonial depredations and horrors that Columbus inaugurated. Author Hans Koning, who has written a scathing biography titled Columbus: His Enterprise (Monthly Review Press; $8.95), sums up this school of scandalized thought: “It’s almost obscene to celebrate Columbus because it’s an unmitigated record of horror. We don’t have to celebrate a man who was really — from an Indian point of view — worse than Attila the Hun.”



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