When creating a holiday as broad as Indigenous People’s Day, it would be wise to proceed with caution. In the case of this holiday, it was invented in direct opposition to Columbus Day. Why? Because of the false narrative begun by Howard Zinn in his history-like book, “A People’s History of the United States.” Thanks to what basically amounts to a fictional re-telling of America’s history, we have a generation of Americans who truly believe that Christopher Columbus was a genocidal rapist.
Well-meaning Americans don’t know any better. They have been raised on revisionist history in children’s books, public education, and universities. They have been fed lies, and have not questioned the source.
Read the actul sources. I’ll give you a sample:
“…it appeareth by the relation of a Countryman of ours, namely David Ingram, (who travelled in those countries 11 months and more) that the savages generally for the most part, are at continual wars with their next adjoining neighbors, and especially the cannibals (Karankawa), being a cruel kind of people whose food is man’s flesh, and have teeth like dogs, and doe pursue them with ravenous minds to eat their flesh, and devour them.” Richard Hakluyt, The Principal Navigations, Voyages, Traffiques and Discoveries of the English Nation (1589–1600) on the incredible journey of David Ingram in 1568 from the Gulf of Mexico to the coast of Maine.
Christopher Levett, in his report of a 1624 voyage to Maine, gave a lengthy description of the Abenaki people there, which included, “Their wives are their slaves, and do all their work. The men will do nothing but kill beasts, fish, etc.”
In his discovery of the various Caribbean Islands, Christopher Columbus learned to fear a cannibalistic tribe from the friendlier Indians. He was cautiously fearful of encountering these cannibals as he explored each island:
“These people (the Caribs) raid the other islands and carry off all the women they can take, especially the young and beautiful, whom they keep as servants and concubines. They had carried off so many that in fifty houses we found no males and more than twenty of the captives were girls. These women say that they are treated with a cruelty that seems incredible.
The Caribs eat the male children that they have by them, and only bring up the children of their own women; and as for the men they are able to capture, they bring those who are alive home to be slaughtered and eat those who are dead on the spot. They say that human flesh is so good that there is nothing like it in the world; and this must be true, for the human bones we found in their houses were so gnawed that no flesh was left on them except what was too tough to be eaten. In one house the neck of a man was found cooking in a pot. They castrate the boys that they capture and use them as servants until they are men. Then, when they want to make a feast, they kill and eat them, for they say that the flesh of boys and women is not good to eat. Three of these boys fled to us, and all three had been castrated.” (-Narrative of the First Voyage of Columbus, from Christopher Columbus: His Story and His Journals)
Those are just three examples of various North American tribes that had encounters with European explorers in the 16th and 17th centuries. These are the “indigenous people” that are being hailed as innocent victims of white men. A very broad picture has been painted, and it is not factual.
History cannot be told in generalizations. Sadly, this is exactly what’s been happening in American education for decades. Black history, women’s history, white men…you know what I mean. While there have been large movements, there are individual stories within each one.
We cannot lump all Native American Indian tribes together, and we cannot lump all white Europeans together, either.
It is very likely that every European sailing vessel that explored the North American coasts contained friendly, upstanding, Christian men, as well as greedy, immoral men who were willing to enslave and murder for gain.
It is also very likely that every Native tribe in the Americas had friendly, generous Indians as well as suspicious, murderous men.
The English settlers of the Plymouth Colony were fortunate enough to encounter a friendly tribe of Wampanoags. Christopher Columbus met with numerous tribes in the Caribbean who were hesitant but friendly, and even engaged in trade. It was to Columbus that friendly Indians appealed for protection from the Caribs (the cannibals).
This bit of Samuel de Champlain’s journal from his navigation along the coast of Maine in 1602 is illustrative of the most common interaction with Indians of North America:
Further on, we met two canoes which had come to hunt birds, which for the most part are molting at this season, and cannot fly. We addressed these savages by aid of our own, who went to them with his wife, who made them understand the reason of our coming. We made friends with them and with the savages of this river, who served us as guides. Proceeding farther, in order to see their captain, named Manthoumermer, we passed, after we had gone seven or eight leagues, by some islands, straits, and brooks, which extend along the river, where we saw some fine meadows. After we had coasted along an island, some four leagues in length, they conducted us to where their chief was with twenty-five or thirty savages, who as soon as we had anchored, came to us in a canoe, separated a short distance from ten others, in which were those who accompanied him. Coming near our barque, he made an harangue, in which he expressed the pleasure it gave him to see us, and said that he desired to form an alliance with us and to make peace with his enemies through our mediation. He said that, on the next day, he would send to two other captains of savages, who were in the interior, one called Marchin, and the other Sasinou, chief of the river Quinibequy. Sieur de Monts gave them some cakes and peas, with which they were greatly pleased.”
Indian vs. Indian
There is extensive history preserved in both oral tradition and in writing that tells us of violent behavior between the various tribes of the North American continent. Certain tribes were bitter enemies of other tribes. They enslaved each other. They stole land from each other. They kept up bitter disputes for years. And they fought each other for the glory of winning.
John Heckewelder, who lived among the Iroquois for 30 years, wrote in 1818, “There are tribes among the Indians, who claim the exclusive right of hunting within certain bounds, and will not suffer others to intrude and take their game from them, as they call it; and there have been instances, when such intruders, being found trespassing after a fair warning, have had their ears and noses cut off, and have been sent home to tell their chiefs that the next time they came again, they should be sent home without their scalps. While the Christian Indians of the Lenape nation were settled for a few years on the land of the Chippeways beyond Detroit, where they had taken refuge and were permitted to remain for their safety; though the Chippeways professed reverence for them, and called them Grandfather, yet they were continually complaining of their killing their game. They had no objection to their tilling the ground, but every deer, raccoon, or other animal which they killed or took, was a cause of displeasure to their hosts; and in consequence of that, they pressed them so often to remove from their lands, that they at last went off.
When the Indians have determined to take revenge for a murder committed by another nation, they generally endeavor to make at once a bold stroke, so as to strike their enemies with terror; for which purpose, they penetrate into the hostile country as far as they can without being discovered, and when they have made their stroke, they leave a war club near the body of the person murdered, and make off as quick as possible. This war club is purposely left that the enemy may know to what nation the act is to be ascribed, and that they may not wreak their vengeance on an innocent tribe. It is meant also to let them know that unless they take measures to discover and punish the author of the original aggression, this instrument will be the means of revenging the injury, or, in other words, war will be forthwith declared against them.” (Iroquois Handbook: The History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States, published by Knowledge Keepers)
So what’s the point?
All races of people, all over the world, and throughout the centuries, have been both kind and hostile. The reasons are as varied as the people themselves. There is no truthful way to group any people group into a single behavioral category. It’s disingenuous.
So, by all means, celebrate Native American heritage. Study their history. Learn from it. There is a wealth of fascinating information, and we should take the time to learn it. But let’s be careful to elevate all “indigenous peoples” for reasons of virtue and innocence. They were just like the rest of the human race.
If you want to know more of the plain truth about Christopher Columbus, and why it’s perfectly okay to dedicate a day to him, start here: