I always wonder how Native Americans feel about holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. Because I know if there was a holiday that celebrates the pillage of my people and land, I’d be highly pissed that it was commemorated every year, you know, like the Fourth of July. “My opinion, to add insult to serious injury, the US government chooses to celebrate a day of mourning for Native Americans. This would be comparable to throwing a parade to honor the first slave ships arrival on American shores. It’s disrespectful”, says Brynn Lugar of the Lakota Sioux Nation.
I remember in elementary school, we were forced to remember that poem, “In 1492”, and I hated every minute of it. It was beat into our heads every year. We had assemblies and I was pissed that I was never chosen to be Christopher Columbus. I was brown, so therefore I had to be a Native American. God forbid a little black girl got picked to be Christopher Columbus. Talk about not having blind casting. Yeah, I still harbor some resentment about that. I couldn’t even play a girl Native American.
If you remember correctly, the first few stanzas of the poem are:
In fourteen hundred ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
He sailed by night; he sailed by day;
He used the stars to find his way.
A compass also helped him know
How to find the way to go.
Ninety sailors were on board;
Some men worked while others snored.
As we all know, today is Columbus Day. And not everyone has the luxury of spending it at home like so many Federal employees, well the ones who aren’t on furlough. Thankfully my son has never been forced to learn the 1492 poem, but he does know the history of Christopher Columbus and the atrocities that were committed on the Native Americans. Needless to say, he learned most of this from what I taught him and not at school. Sure the schools give kids the watered down versions, but why sugar coat anything? White people came to America, they bought diseases and Native Americans died. Oh yeah, there was that rape thing too. The end. Sure he was a little bit shocked when he discovered these things when he was younger, but it is a part of history. An unfortunate history.
In 1992, “Our Visions”, was a historic gathering of over 100 Native writers, artists and wisdomkeepers at Taos Pueblo and sponsored by The Morning Star Institute and The 1992 Alliance. At the end of the gathering, a statement of visions for the next 500 years was written:
We demand an end to all exploitation, desecration and commercialization of Indian spirituality and cultures, our sacred places and the remains of our ancestors. We demand an end to the violations of our right of worship, to the disrespect of our religious and cultural property and to the disregard of our very humanity. Native Peoples over the next 500 years must maintain our status as distinct political and cultural communities. Indian Nations expect the world community to honor and enforce treaties that recognize tribal property and sovereignty. Sovereignty is the inherent right of Indian Nations to govern all actions within their own countries based upon traditional systems and laws that arise from the People themselves. Sovereignty includes the right of Native Nations to freely live and develop socially, economically, culturally, spiritually and politically.
In honor of the 521st anniversary of 1492, the rewrite of the infamous poem is below:
Fourteen Hundred Ninety-Two (The Rewrite)
In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety Two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
But everything else in the childhood rhyme,
Ignores the historic details and genocide.
The overland route between Asia and Spain,
Was closed making trade very hard to maintain.
But Oriental goods were in high demand,
A new route would allow this exchange to expand.
Aristotle had proved that the world was round,
You could reach eastern Asia by sailing westbound.
The Ancient Greeks calculated the length of the trip,
Far exceeding the range of the most modern ship.
Columbus made absurd and outrageous guarantees,
About his nautical calculations and skills at Sea.
But despite reservations expressed by the King,
He was given three ships outfitted by the Queen.
He set sail in August of 1492,
his Log Book describes what he planned to do.
To take wealth and riches wherever they were found,
His thievery would become historically profound.
Columbus reached Islands in the Caribbean Sea,
Not even close to where he thought he should be.
He said there was gold and made other false claims,
To gain the support for more voyages from Spain.
Columbus described the Natives as being,
Generous, hospitable, and very agreeing.
Not quarrelsome, excitable — devoid of hate,
He exclaimed they’d be easy to dominate.
He made several voyages to the Caribbean Sea,
Visited the mainland where he thought Asia should be.
He colonized the region and controlled everything,
Destroying the culture and lives of every human being.
He appointed himself Governor; no one disagreed,
Extermination of the Natives could then proceed.
Their homes and lands were taken by force,
Those not killed were enslaved without remorse.
He created a “tribute system” very tragic to behold,
Intended to fulfill Spain’s unending lust for gold.
Requiring a quota from every Native over fourteen,
Or their hands were cut off, death became quite routine.
Natives were raped at will and many used as slaves,
The rest were exterminated, in a variety of ways.
By burning, hanging, cut in pieces or in half,
Babies swung by the feet and their skulls were smashed.
He initiated the conquest and genocide,
During his expeditions, 9 million people died.
Following the “Civilization” of the Western Hemisphere,
100 million vanished as a result of European profiteers.
Columbus didn’t keep the promises made to the Crown,
And a sea route to Asia, he never found.
He could not deliver on his guarantees of Gold,
But colonization of the Americas began to unfold
© 2007 Dana W. Hall, All Rights Reserved
As I perused Twitter today, I saw a joke retweeted about Columbus Day. “How do you celebrate Columbus Day?”…”With syphilis.” Might I add, murder, carnage, and rape. Or better yet, break into someone’s house and claim it as your own.