Inside the Capitol

Friday, October 10, 2008

10-13 Lay Off Chris

MON, 10-13-08

SANTA FE - Poor Christopher Columbus has really taken a beating for about a generation now. Back when I was in school, he was a hero.
We were taught that Columbus was the first person to figure out the world was round and he set out to prove it amidst ridicule and mutinous sailors who thought they were going to fall off the edge of the earth.
We learned he discovered the New World and brought back bunches of stuff, along with some Indians he found over here. And then he did it three more times.
Well, yeah, kinda. Actually most educated people in Columbus' day knew the earth was round. The Greeks had figured that out about 1,500 years earlier. And there were tales of sailors getting blown off course, ending up on the other side and making their way back. Columbus may even have had some of their crude maps.
Obviously, Columbus wasn't the first to discover the Americas. That seems to have happened at least 13,000 years earlier. Some of that evidence is here in New Mexico. And then the Vikings provided pretty good evidence that they visited some 500 years earlier.
What Columbus was the first to do was to report his findings to the world, establish a trade route and retrace it a few times. This led to colonization and a spread of European culture. Columbus was one of the few people to change the world in his lifetime. He was celebrated for that feat for centuries.
But then, our society began taking note that the Native Americans who already were here lost claim to the entire Western Hemisphere. And most of them lost their lives, primarily to diseases brought by the Europeans. And suddenly, Christopher Columbus was a villain, responsible for the plight of all Native Americans.
So, does Columbus merit a national holiday of his own? Is he equal to the other people and events we celebrate during the year? He isn't as great as we once made him out to be and he isn't as bad as the current politically correct generation portrays him. So you be the judge.
Many already have judged. Although Columbus received his financing to sail for Spain, and may have had Spanish ancestry, he was Italian. So Italian-Americans have co-opted the day as their own. In most of Latin America the day is called Dia de la Raza.
Minnesota officially does not recognize Columbus Day because of the state's attachment to the Vikings, although that does not keep government offices from shutting down. Some states and territories celebrate an Indigenous Peoples Day to recognize the atrocities committed in the colonization of the New World.
Without doubt, there were horrible atrocities committed during the Colonial Period worldwide. At that time, it was a fact of life. Cultural sensitivity wasn't much in vogue anywhere in the world 500 years ago. It was conquer or be conquered and no one shed many tears for the vanquished.
Recently, some countries have begun formally apologizing to native populations for their treatment in years past. Owning up to past actions likely is a good method of healing wounds as long as it isn't allowed to lead to a continual state of victimhood.
Recognition also must be given to the fact that prior to Europe reaching the New World, relations among native populations were not as amiable as the politically correct would now have us believe. Tribes fought with each other just as much as the rest of the world did.
When the Spanish first settled in New Mexico, one of their first promises to the Pueblos was protection from the Navajos, Apaches and Comanches. And they didn't succeed.
Spanish treatment of the Pueblos likely was the most humane example of any European encounter with Native Americans. Granted, the Pueblos did revolt, but they survived without being annihilated or relocated as occurred in the rest of our country.
Sorry to be late. Have been w/o connection for two days in Arabian Sea between Yemen and Somalia. Guess it could have been worse.  J

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