On Avoiding Columbus Day

For two years in a row, I haven’t written anything on Columbus Day. Most of DC takes the day off so that federal employees can shop the shoes sales and feel the fall breeze. It tends to piss off locals who still have to work, and of course the rest of the country that moves on as usual.

But I haven’t avoided the topic for two years because I was shoe shopping: I avoided it because it depresses me.

Yes – I’m writing a musical that (as of now) includes the slow, painful death of a famine victim; and a screenplay about a woman contemplating suicide in a Communist gulag with her seven children, and Columbus’ story depresses even me.

It’s an unsolvable crime, the arrival of Columbus in the Americas. It was the start of something gruesome and of something beautiful – the beautiful, gruesome USofA that displaced and massacred the very people whose agriculture and religious affections left her land so desirable for conquest. It can’t be figured out, remembered fully, forgotten fully.

And I hate writing about unsolvable things. It makes me feel like I’m just pouring guilt onto a flat plate – asking the recipients to grapple with something they aren’t created to hold on to in the first place.

This past year I became determined to learn more about native culture. I visited the Smithsonian’s National Museum of the American Indian, and took a family trip out West that allowed me to visit ancient, sacred sites. I must’ve started out hoping for some sort of resolution with my country’s history, because I felt noticeably disappointed when I didn’t find it.

Have you? Will you tell me how? Explain to me how not to avoid Columbus Day.

Perhaps next year I will have something to post – if not of my own journey, then of someone else’s.

4 Responses to “On Avoiding Columbus Day”
  1. Darrell says:

    I’ve read a few books on Columbus but the best was probably George Grant’s “The Last Crusader.” Columbus sailed,he said, for the advancement of the Christian faith. That doesn’t excuse the extermination of the native population, but neither should Columbus be blamed for the 300 to 400 year war against the Indians. It seems horrible to us now but people living then had no concept of these “savages” as they called them, having souls of the same value as their own. Human slavery was universal including among Indian tribes. People in many areas of Europe still lived as medieval serfs despite the Magna Carta’s guarantee of equality under the law. People did not view all human beings as being equally human. Anyway we humans have advanced to a brave new age now. For evidence just look about anywhere in the Middle East or Africa.

  2. Leah Thomason Bromberg says:

    Columbus Day is actually really hard for me. People usually gripe to me about how crazy the ‘Indians’ are about it, how they should quit complaining, and a person (once close to me) actually declared them ‘heathen savages’ to justify all that has happened to the indigenous people here. A lot of people have started to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day, which I appreciate. This Columbus Day I was actually slightly encouraged to see all the postings of the someecards card that said, “Let’s celebrate Columbus Day by walking into someone else’s house and telling them we live there now.” I felt like many of my non-native Facebook comrades saw Columbus Day for what it is. I think society has fallen out of love with the idea of a hero.

    Mostly what I see is how we need to educate everyone about the implications of Columbus’ arrival into the Americas. For kids American Indians only appear in their history books when Europeans arrive at first and then in the 1800s as they were pushed onto reservations. Then they have to learn a rhyme to remember the exact year of Columbus’ arrival. One of the reasons I appreciate your blog is that it shares the stories of those who are pushed aside, and I think that’s what needs to happen with Columbus Day.

    • joannacastlemiller says:

      I love this response Leah. I knew you’d have something beautiful to add to this discussion. Thank you.

  3. Mary says:

    It helped me to talk about this with a Native American activist Christian woman I met and became Facebook friends with on a plane trip to Colorado. She works for the Bureau of Indian Affairs, and has for years, yet is amazingly without bitterness. I asked her lots of questions and I want to continue to develop our friendship further.
    I truly understand, though, how unsolvable this feels.
    I sent her a poem I wrote after visiting a Native American “fair” a few years ago in Phoenix, and looking into the faces of so many people who were betrayed by my ancestors.
    She told me, “it’s not your fault”. Which was kind of a shock.

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