Thanks to recent debate over the renaming, removing, and disallowing of Confederate memorialization in public spaces, people in the United States are starting to recognize the differences between actual history and public history or public memory. However, even before the start of the Civil War, Indigenous people and their allies have been fighting to correct this very issue in relation to Christopher Columbus. Phillippa Pitts, writing a joint-initiative between Cultural Survival, Italian-Americans for Indigenous Peoples Day, and the United American Indians of New England, discusses the nature of public memory using a statue of Columbus in Boston’s Waterfront Park as an example. Pitts says, “We need ... an analysis of all the pasts, presents, and futures which coalesce around this statue and a conversation about the ongoing harm that this monument—and those like it—cause today.” She continues, stating, “The notion that monuments preserve some universally shared truth or civic feeling is a fiction that their architects worked hard to produce, obscuring their individual motives behind a smokescreen”.
This is especially true of Columbus. Pitts reminds readers that “Columbus did not merely ‘open the door’ to settlement and colonization, as many claim. Columbus himself was a genocidal slave trader who perpetrated an abhorrent list of violent crimes first against the Indigenous Taíno people on the island of Ayiti (Hispaniola) and subsequently across the Caribbean. The pearls, gold, exotic animals, and enslaved Indigenous people brought back to Spain to repay Columbus’ investors were extracted through a brutal regime of murder, brutal disfiguration, torture, sexual slavery, rape, and mass enslavement, all justified by colonial greed ... Columbus cannot be salvaged by claims that he was a man of his time: even his contemporaries condemned the atrocities he committed.” How then did Columbus Day, not Indigenous Peoples Day, become a federal holiday?
Learn more in the Columbus Day Truths Active-Book.