Latina Lista: News from the Latinx perspective > Life Issues > Education > It’s time to recognize the first heroes of the New World — Native Americans

It’s time to recognize the first heroes of the New World — Native Americans

LatinaLista — At Twitter, “Happy Columbus Day” is the fourth most popular “Trending Topic.” Yet, a quick browse of what people are saying uncovers the same things people are saying about Obama’s win of the Nobel Peace Prize — what did he do to deserve it?

These days, it’s more accepted, and tolerated, to point out that Columbus was far from a benevolent explorer and acted more like a genocidal maniac who abused, tortured and enslaved the indigenous people who were unlucky enough to be “discovered” by him.


Yet, we still celebrate this day in his honor – or at the least – use his name to justify the day off for federal employees and bank closings. However, because scholars over time have been able to unmask the real Christopher Columbus and expose his dark side — or what is considered dark by today’s standards — the question begs to be asked:

Knowing what we know, do we still want to honor a man who subjugated untold thousands of Native Americans to unspeakable abuses?



In some parts of the country, Columbus Day is a big deal. People take off work, there are parades, schools are closed and it triggers immense pride in some Italian communities.

On the other end of the spectrum, the legacy that Columbus left for indigenous peoples, in the U.S. and throughout Latin America, is still sorely remembered. As such, those regions of the U.S. with ties to indigenous groups, and who prefer to honor history as it was, not as it was remembered, have devised creative ways to celebrate the “discovery” of America.

In Berkeley, CA, one Latina Lista reader says that today is “indigenous peoples’ day” and a UPI article points out some other different observances:

Alabama celebrated American Indian Heritage Day while South Dakota marked Native American Day, the Post said. In Hawaii, the second Monday of October is Discoverers’ Day, recognizing Polynesian discoverers of the Hawaiian Islands.

Since the United States has historically marginalized the voices of Native Americans it is not surprising that their oral histories have also suffered the same treatment, but that’s not the case in Latin America. The indigenous still thrive and can still hold on to the stories their ancestors told of strangers who came from the sea looking for gold.

The atrocities of what Columbus, his men, the missionaries and the men who came after him committed against the indigenous of Latin America are still very much alive in their memories.

So, it’s no wonder that Venezuela’s Hugo Chavez garners wide support when he says that Columbus Day should be remembered as Indian Resistance Day.

Spanish, Portuguese and other foreign conquerors had massacred South America’s Indian inhabitants at an average rate of roughly “one every 10 minutes”, he (Chavez) said.

He described Spanish conquistadors like Hernan Cortes and Francisco Pizarro, as “worse than Hitler”.

And he said even the continent’s geographical names – such as America and Venezuela – were created and imposed by foreigners…

In his speech Chavez praised Indian chiefs who had fought against the invaders, such as Guaicaipuro who resisted the Spanish founders of Caracas, and American Indian chief Sitting Bull, who defeated US General George Armstrong Custer at the Battle of Little Bighorn in 1876.

“Long live Sitting Bull!” Chavez declared, drawing applause from his audience, many of whom wore traditional native clothes and head-dresses.

For Chavez to remember Sitting Bull, and most of the school children of the United States do not know who he is, exemplifies where this nation went wrong in chronicling our history.

Sitting Bull and all the other Native American leaders who defended this land against foreign invasion have always been painted as barbaric and uncivilized. However, though it took us over 200 years to see the truth, it’s time to recognize that the first heroes that existed in this country didn’t come from Europe but were here all along — still waiting to be recognized.

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  • Crissy
    October 13, 2009 at 4:35 pm

    Thanks so much for posting. It’s important to do posts like this, because people tend to take holidays, just because, without thinking of why, or why or why they should not. This history is important, and we need to be reminded of this so things can be changed. I put a link to your post at the blisted blog –

  • Kim Thames
    October 13, 2009 at 6:16 pm

    As a Native American, I appreciate the idea that perhaps Columbus day could become a day to honor the bravery of the indigenous peoples. I am also a school librarian trying to keep books in a local library that serves our immigrant community. Have you heard of this story?

  • Shirley Rose
    October 22, 2009 at 4:59 am

    Please do not remove the books and replace them with computers in the libraries under review. There is no replacement for the love and learning that a book can give a child, or for that matter, an adult.

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