In 1937, President Franklin D. Roosevelt proclaimed Columbus Day a national holiday, largely as a result of intense lobbying by the Knights of Columbus, an influential Catholic fraternal benefits organization. Columbus Day has been celebrated as a federal holiday in the United States since 1971. Then, on 9th October 2002, President George W. Bush issued a presidential proclamation celebrating “Columbus’ bold expedition, pioneering achievements” and directing that “the flag of the United States be displayed on all public buildings on the appointed day in honor of Christopher Columbus.”
Columbus ‘discovered’ Hispaniola, the largest island in what later became known as the West Indies. There were about a million people living there when Columbus arrived. So friendly were they that they saved one of Columbus’s shipwrecked galleys and mended it for him. Columbus remarked on the ‘paradise’ which he bequeathed to the Spanish empire. In return, they went about their business with such ferocity that in 250 years the entire native population was exterminated.
The Spanish Conquest of the Americas, by Christopher Columbus (or Cristóbal Colón as he was known by the Spanish Crown) resulted in mass assimilation, raping, slaughtering, enslaving, and intention to wipe out all evidence of a native population of between 50 and 100 million indigenous people from the land — the greatest genocide in recorded history. These well-documented atrocities include:
1. Forced hard labor.
2. Abducting and selling children into the sex trade as young as nine-years-old.
3. Mass raping of women and children.
4. The amputation of limbs if slaves were not producing ‘enough’.
5. Labelled as hostile savages if not in complete compliance with their oppressors. Buried alive or burnt alive if you were resistant to the conquerors demands.
6. Offering cash rewards for the scalps of men, women, and children as proof of murder.
7. Intentionally spreading smallpox disease, an early means of biological warfare.
8. Forced removal from homes and land onto small reservations with barren, unlivable conditions.
9. Death marches of more than one-thousand miles to these reservations in which, if you were unable to continue the walk, you were left for dead and unable to assist dying family members.
10. On these same reservations “reserved” for the indigenous people, once this land was deemed valuable, the reservation agreement was broken and they were forced to move once again. All 370 treaties signed between the U.S Government and Indian nations have been broken by the United States.
11. Public execution of those who did not follow orders. Children were murdered by slamming them against stone and tree trunks, while pregnant women’s bellies were sliced open on public display, as a warning to those who did not comply.
12. These same mass murderers become labeled as heroes after sweeping through villages and slaughtering unarmed civilians.
13. Systematically kidnapping children and forcing them to a boarding school system in which they are beaten, forbidden to speak native language, brainwashed into becoming “Americanized”, and often molested.
14. Not entitled to the rights of citizenship in their own land until 1924.
15. Not included in the initial civil rights act; did not receive equal legal protections/rights until 1968.
16. Not allowed to practice their own ‘religion’/spirituality until 1978.
17. In the 1970’s the attendance at these brutal boarding schools peaked and it was not until 1975 that the United States Government emphasized reduction in boarding schools with most of them finally closing in the 1980s and 1990s. In 2007, there were still 9,500 American Indian children kept in boarding schools.
18. Traditional lifestyle mocked and ridiculed in mass media and in the classroom – socially acceptable to discriminate against.
19. Altered their history by ignoring and denying the truth for the past four centuries.
Columbus claimed the land for Spain and renamed it San Salvador although it had been occupied for thousands of years by the Taino, Arawak, and Lucayans (all extremely hospitable peoples, per many written accounts). Early estimates believe there were up to three million indigenous people living in the Caribbean; whereas more recent studies believe that number to be closer to eight million.
Columbus wrote in his journal about his first encounter with the Taino:
“These people have no religious beliefs, nor are they idolaters. They are very gentle and do not know what evil is; nor do they kill others, nor steal; and they are without weapons.”
Columbus quickly captured a handful of Taino to help guide him to find gold, while putting many into forced labor and sent thousands back to Spain to be sold as slaves (although most of them died on the journey back across the Atlantic).
In his journals he also described how the Arawak invited the newcomers into their home:
“They are artless and generous with what they have, to such a degree as no one would believe but him who had seen it. Of anything they have, if it be asked for, they never say no, but do rather invite the person to accept it, and show as much lovingness as though they would give their hearts.”
Columbus consistently wrote about the kindness of the people that he encountered:
“They are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say no. To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone….”
“[The natives] brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things… They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… “
His conclusion was:
“…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
The Taino were being killed by starvation, worked to death, disease, or murder. The women were given to the Spaniards to do as they chose. Many began committing suicide to avoid the tortures of the Spaniards.
Columbus proudly wrote of the innocence of the local peoples and his intent to sell them into the slave trade:
“Naked as the day they were born, they show no more embarrassment than animals… Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.” Columbus began selling girls as young as nine years old as sex-slaves.
During the ten years of Columbus’ four voyages (1492-1502) the population of Taino decreased from an estimated 3 to 8 million inhabitants to less than 50,000. By the mid 1500’s that number was reduced to just 500 remaining Taino.