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Columbus Day is also Native American Day


Christoper Columbus Statue in Columbus Circle, Washington, DC. That's Union Station in the background. Dove photo.

The Columbus Day celebration forces the National Park Service to deal with two conflicting themes -- joyful celebration of Columbus’ “discovery” of the New World, and somber reflection on the holocaust that ensued for Native Americans. As honored tradition demands, the first theme is handled with pomp and circumstance. The second theme is handled respectfully, but with no fanfare.

If you know anyone who doubts that the National Park Service is deeply involved in the national Columbus Day celebration, have them read this National Park Service press release dated October 5, 2009:

The National Park Service and the National Columbus Celebration Association will co-sponsor the 92nd annual Christopher Columbus ceremony. This ceremony will be held at the Christopher Columbus Statue in Columbus Plaza, opposite Union Station at 11 a.m., Monday, October 11. The United States Marine Band will provide a musical prelude beginning at 10:45 a.m.

The monumental statue was dedicated June 8, 1912; and has been the focal point for yearly celebrations since that time to honor the great navigator and discoverer. The front shaft of the statue, which is crowned with a globe supported by eagles, is a prow of a ship with winged figurehead symbolizing Discovery. Columbus Day was declared a national holiday in 1971.

The annual ceremony is open and free to the public. The ceremony will feature representatives from the Diplomatic Corps of Italy, Spain, The Commonwealth of the Bahamas and the Organization of American States. Ceremonial music provided by the United States Marine Band, "The President's Own" under the direction of Lt Col Michael J. Colburn and Capt Jason K. Fettig, conducting. On June 8 1912, "The President's Own" United States Marine Band participated in the unveiling of the Columbus Memorial Fountain, providing ceremonial music during the official ceremony. Like the monuments the Marine Band has helped dedicate, its continued presence in American life stands as a symbol of the traditions and ideals on which our country was founded.

Dr. David R. Curfman, President of the National Columbus Celebration Association, will serve as master of ceremonies. Mr. Gentry Davis, Deputy Regional Director, National Park Service will give remarks. The United States Armed Forces Honor Guard, Military District of Washington Knights of Columbus Fourth Degree Color Corps, Calvert Province and the Districts of Washington Archdiocese, Maryland and Virginia will make the Presentation of Colors. Reverend Daniel P. Coughlin, Chaplain; United States House of Representatives, will deliver the invocation.

Miss Monika Grzesik, resident of Macomb Township, Michigan, the national winner of the eighth annual youth essay contest, will deliver her essay entitled "A Day in the Life of Christopher Columbus the Explorer." Since 1996 this nation-wide contest is co-sponsored by the National Society Daughters of the American Revolution and The National Italian American Foundation. The prize for the national winner is a cash prize of $1,200 along with travel expenses and hotel accommodations for the student and one parent/guardian to Washington, D.C. for the holiday weekend.

The ceremony will conclude with the laying of wreaths at the statue by many national and local fraternal, civic, patriotic and cultural societies.

Meanwhile, this announcement in the Rapid City Journal heralded the events of the past weekend over at South Dakota’s Badlands National Park:

Interpretive presentations on bison and beadwork and moccasin-making demonstrations will be presented at Badlands National Park from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. on Oct. 10 and 11 to commemorate Native American Day.

In case of inclement weather, programs will be conducted inside at the Ben Reifel Visitor Center classroom.

For more information, contact the Ben Reifel Visitor Center, Badlands National Park at 605-433-5241 or e-mail

This is in a state whose legislature officially replaced Columbus Day with Native American Day two decades ago. This is in a national park whose visitor center is named after the first Native American park ranger, whose superintendent is a Native American, and whose entire South Unit – about half of the park’s total area -- consists of Pine River Reservation land belonging to the Oglala Sioux tribe.

Postscript: In some quarters, liberals are being accused of taking Native American issues too seriously, as by considering the annual Native American Day celebration worthy of public respect. Hearing this claim, Native Americans are quick to point out that it was Ronald Reagan himself who, while governor of California, in 1968, signed a resolution calling for a holiday called American Indian Day. In 1998 the California state legislature established Native American Day as an official state holiday.


While all American school children are taught that Christopher Columbus discovered the New World, few are aware that not only the Viking Age explorers are proven to have made it to North America, but, that, possibly, many other explorers, traders, and colonists may have also visited our shores in truly ancient times. Even fewer are aware that Columbus never reached the mainland. Historical, epigraphical, genetic, cartographic, and archeological evidence accumulated over the past century of so indicates there may have been numerous ancient cultures that crossed the Atlantic and Pacific oceans to visit the Americas. Columbus was not first, just the first to be recognized.

Many Native Americans protest the celebration of Columbus Day and many States and municipalities either do not recognize it as a legal holiday or celebrate the date under a different name and with different ideas or reasons.

This petition proposes to change the name of the holiday to one that all can support and celebrate: Explorers Day. Many people, not only in our history, but also living and working today deserve recognition for their explorations into areas of study that either once did or continue to enlighten mankind.

Those who believe that Columbus deserves celebration may still celebrate his great accomplishment as a navigator. Those who feel Meriwether Lewis and William Clark deserve recognition for their exploration of the American west can do so. Those who believe that Watson and Crick should be recognized for their revolution in genetics may celebrate them. Those who think Chief Joseph or Squanto deserve celebration may do so. All who explore new areas of study and thus contribute to the expansion of mankind's knowledge and peaceful coexistence deserve recognition, not just the most famous navigator.

Please consider adding your voice to this plea.

Why don't we just rename it Italian New-World-Explorers' Day. In addition to Columbus and Cabot(o), there was also Giovanni da Verrazzano.

We sure are products of our consumerist time. Columbus may have been ignorant about the effects of his actions, but we're not. He might have had some excuse, but we don't. God knows what judgment will come from the archaeologist a thousand years from now who will find our putrid piles of polymer trash. I've been an active naturalist for most of my life. No lip service here - I use public transport and recycled before it was cool. I've pulled more crap out of streams, oil off of ducks, and garbage off of trails than I can shake a wicked stick at. The beauty of Yosemite? Bollux! I can't afford to go there. Yosemite exists on websites and in picture books. My natural world is ugly, polluted, and degraded. Since I've been in the muck and not opining from an executive's desk, do any of my efforts matter? Hard to tell. Sanctimonious? Maybe. Disgusted? Definitely.

Columbus and his contemporaries knew they were on top of the food chain and acted like predators. There's nothing to celebrate about Columbus. Forget about our latter-day Columbuses! I can either lament the predators of our time, or I can do something about it. And there are lots of people just like me, without advanced degrees or proven credentials. Get your angst-ridden enjoyment of the crown jewel parks while you still can. I'm not going to waste my time wondering about what future historians will say - next Saturday I'll be working in the muck. History will take care of itself.


They definitely should unless we get our act together, especially as in Columbus's time and in our own time, there were and are people who find such behavior unacceptable. We aren't people of our times, perhaps, as those few voices speaking out in Columbus's time weren't, and that's too bad. I hope we can rid ourselves of this fallacious logic of domination (what you note is very similar to what some ecofeminists have noticed; that the fallacious logic that men used for superiority over women - or in this case, one sort of people over another - has been used by people in regards to their natural environment) so that we aren't looked at as voices crying out "in the wilderness" but that that wilderness is really the norm where in we all cry and sing and dance.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Free Republic has posted a thought-provoking, brief item on Columbus Day by James C. Bennett. Rather than go into his theme, I'll just say that the English explorer most of us know as John Cabot was actually Giovanni Caboto, an Italian, and he actually set foot on North America, whereas, Christopher Columbus did not. Bennett goes on to reveal some of the pitfalls awaiting us in our studies of the human diaspora, cultural diffusion, and reception history. Read his post here:

I especially enjoyed his reference to "American Indians" as Siberian-Americans, as well as his mention of political correctness as an expression of the Calvinist Puritan roots of Progressivism. This would also be a good time to refresh ourselves with the work of Ed Linenthal, "professor or sacred ground and meaning" and good friend of the NPS, now at Indiana University.

For better or worse (definitely worse for Native Americans), Columbus was a product of his time. It was simply assumed that Christian Europeans, particularly those in power, were superior to indigenous people and had the right to exploit and even kill them if they resisted. That point of view reflects how we have treated the natural environment. Even today there are many who believe that the natural world exists for our pleasure and can be decimated in the pursuit of profit and power, even when it results in human hardship. We stand in judgement of Columbus, but we are willing to permit the virtual extermination of entire ecosystems, extinction of countless species of flora and fauna, the fouling of our air and water and even the alteration of the world's climate. Will future generations look back on us as critically as we now view Columbus?

Are you kidding? Don't you know about many, many thousands that Columbus was responsible for in his own lifetime? You could ask the Taina Indians about their plight under Columbus? Oh wait. You can't. He and his men killed them all.

As for what came after, yes, Columbus does hold some responsibility; he started the process and was an unapologetic advocate with it. Unless you think history is simply made up of discrete moments and is unconnected, then you should hold Columbus up as an ingredient in the story.

But, yes, Columbus was directly responsible for genocide in his own lifetime.

Jim Macdonald
The Magic of Yellowstone
Yellowstone Newspaper
Jim's Eclectic World

Why is Columbus so vilified? I understand the impact on the native populations brought by those who followed. But how many natives were killed by Columbus himself? Should we also blame him for the loss of the bison? He never found the mainland and didn’t hang around. He accidentally stumbled on the ‘New World’ while looking for the East Indies. The exploitation there was already underway.

The Pilgrims and their descendants who stayed and expanded across the continent had much larger direct impact. Should we have a ‘Go home Pilgrims’ day?

Don’t blame the scientists who conceived splitting the atom for the bombs dropped on Japan. Let’s clarify the issue. Columbus may be no saint but he also deserves no credit for the plight of the natives that followed his ‘discovery’. I think we can look much closer to home for that responsibility.

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