Today, as the second Monday in October, the U.S. sort of celebrates a holiday. Since the late 1800s, made a federal holiday by Democratic President Franklin Roosevelt in 1937, it has been Columbus Day, after the Italian explorer funded by Spain who set sail for India and stumbled upon the Americas.

I write "sort of" a holiday because federal government union employees get another day off but for kids in California, it is a school day. 

Now, I am generally not a fan of this holiday. Why is an American holiday celebrating an Italian who got money from Spain to get even more money for a monarchy? All of those are un-American. Last year, another Democrat, President Biden, had a different reason to be against it without being against it. He said he needed to "acknowledge the painful history of wrongs and atrocities that many European explorers inflicted on Tribal Nations and Indigenous communities.”(1)

Except Europeans didn't do this:

If this looks like it could have come from a German concentration camp, yeah. People are violent, but a lot less violent than in the past, as this grave from one native American massacre around 1325 shows.

Yes, natives in America were defeated(2) but they had inflicted plenty of defeats on other people whose land they wanted to take. And it was not pretty. 

Claims about colonizers are just picking an arbitrary point in time and declaring it sacred. If you can read this, no matter how you identify, you are a colonizer, and so is everyone who gripes about colonizers. There is no modern human without an ancestor being a colonizer.

And many people do quite well maintaining their heritage despite colonization. According to Grist, 80% of the world's undeveloped land is inhabited by just 5% of the population. That is a much different narrative than what culture warriors sell, that indigenous people are being displaced and forced into cities and losing their culture.

Everyone everywhere is guilty of colonizing, and in many other ways there were also few times when natives were really different than their European colonizers. American city dwellers tend to think of American natives as some homogenous group, but there were ~900 tribes.(3) 

And they fought. A lot.

The most violent time in America was not after Columbus, it was before. One example is the Caddoan people who inhabited what later native colonizers called Crow Creek. Those who lived there throughout time always feared an attack was coming, because they had quality arable land. They built a moat, and fortified homes. When the invaders behind the Crow Creek Massacre attacked, they were brutal. The Coalescent who lived there were scalped, dismembered, their tongues removed, their hands and feet were taken as trophies. 

Yet the people who live there now will claim their ancestors lived there for 12,000 years. They did, assuming that hostile invaders count as ancestors. And that they were scalping enemies at least 170 years before Columbus got on that boat. That is the thing about heritage, it is an a la carte menu.

European colonization led to a decline in violence here. For America today to be as violent as in the past, there would need to be 30,000,000 murders each year. When natives controlled America 10 percent of deaths were at the hands of another person.(4)

So in the pendulum of culture, Columbus gets a bad rap, while any public school teacher who notes the awkward history of native violence may get walking papers, but culture is always rewriting history. That is why humanities academics need grounding by science.

I still don't like Columbus Day being an American holiday, though. If having a large immigrant population is reason for getting a holiday, there are a lot more Scottish descendants in the US than Italians, so let's get President Biden flying the flag at a Burns Supper. It's only fair.


(1) It's certainly true. You find an old conservative who wants less government control and fewer efforts to ban guns and they will point to Native Americans. If you go into the homes of a whole lot of rural people dismissed as Trump voters, you will find images and paintings of Native Americans. Many of them have more real Native American heritage than Senator Elizabeth Warren.   And they all know what happened when natives gave up their weapons.

(2 My big gripe is not that technology and numbers won, but that the US government repeatedly and willfully lied to natives. That is a fantastic reason never to trust a government employee. They're only doing what they are told, like any guard in any prison camp, and you will never know who really makes the decision to end your rights, you'll only know the people assuring you they are only doing their job.

(3) Mine was the Seneca of the Iroquois. Unlike Senator Elizabeth Warren, I can document it.

(4) Colonization and violence could also be junk correlation, like Chuck Benbrook and his epidemiologists-for-hire engage in when they are drumming up lawsuit support for the lawyers who fund him. Globalism and increased trade - market forces - may have caused the downward spiral in violence. You're a lot less likely to want to kill your customers.