Columbus Day celebrates rapists and the enslavement of Indigenous people, FYI

I’m in Canada, not celebrating Thanksgiving because, 1) I don’t care about Thanksgiving, 2) I don’t like turkey, 3) My parents live in the U.S. and we have never much cared for such traditions in any case, 3) Colonialist holidays woooo! But over in America, where I know many of Feminist Current readers reside (as well as half of my family), it’s Columbus Day — the day to celebrate a man who enslaved and brutalized Indigenous people because, gosh, they were just so nice how could you not!

They … brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells. 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…. With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.

~ Excerpt from Columbus’ diary (via Rawstory)

It’s super cool how we all still celebrate a bunch of European men stealing the land and culture of Indigenous people, all these years later, in the face of ongoing murder, abuse, and systemic racism against the very people whose land we live on, true. What’s even cooler is celebrating North America’s original johns and rapists! Here’s an excerpt from a letter written by one of Columbus’ men, Michele da Cuneo, just reminiscing, you know:

While I was in the boat, I captured a very beautiful Carib woman, whom the said Lord Admiral gave to me. When I had taken her to my cabin she was naked—as was their custom. I was filled with a desire to take my pleasure with her and attempted to satisfy my desire. She was unwilling, and so treated me with her nails that I wished I had never begun. But—to cut a long story short—I then took a piece of rope and whipped her soundly, and she let forth such incredible screams that you would not have believed your ears. Eventually we came to such terms, I assure you, that you would have thought that she had been brought up in a school for whores.

~ The Four Voyages of Christopher Columbus by J.M. Cohen (page 139)

The history of Canadian Thanksgiving is vague and appears less overtly attached to celebrating pilgrims and glorifying the theft of Indigenous land, painting it as some kind of pleasant sharing of the harvest, as it is in the U.S., but seeing as a British explorer is credited with holding the first Canadian thanksgiving and that Canadian Thanksgiving, by all appearances, is a settler holiday — tied, superficially at least, to the American version — it’s fair to say Canada’s Thanksgiving is still connected to our equally rich history of colonialism.

In the U.S. you can celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead and, in Canada, you can celebrate “You’re Welcome Day.” In general, Canadians and Americans alike can be reminded that most “traditional” holidays and recognized celebrations in North America are rooted in a history of racism, colonialism, and misogyny.

Meghan Murphy
Meghan Murphy

Founder & Editor

Meghan Murphy is a freelance writer and journalist. She has been podcasting and writing about feminism since 2010 and has published work in numerous national and international publications, including New Statesman, Vice, Al Jazeera, The Globe and Mail, I-D, Truthdig, and more. Meghan completed a Masters degree in the department of Gender, Sexuality and Women’s Studies at Simon Fraser University in 2012 and lives in Vancouver, B.C. with her dog.

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