True Story of “Columbus Day” (holidaze)

Op-Ed: The True Story of “Columbus Day”

Posted by admin on October 9th, 2011


Every second Monday of every year here in America we are basically forced (with the exceptions of the states of Hawaii and South Dakota – of all places) to observe Columbus Day. For many Americans of Italian ancestry it is a day indeed for rejoicing at the fact that one of their own is regarded as a significant historical icon of sorts. For the vast majority of non-Italian, white Americans, it is a time to reflect upon the superior values of their technologically advanced culture and how this man’s adventurous nature has gifted them with so many of the modern day conveniences that they so competitively vie for. For the American Indian though, Columbus Day is that most obscene of travesties of a national observance, or should at least be widely considered as such by anyone who takes any degree of real pride in their identity as an Indian. I say travesty, as this description more than fully constitutes the grossest of likenesses of a so-called “holiday.” And for myself personally, this day is a day that I set aside to carefully consider exactly what Columbus Day means to me, an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota.   

As a child, then teenager from grades four through twelve, I grew up in Los Angeles, California, where my family settled in 1963 on one of the various relocation programs of forced assimilation into the federally perceived “better life” of the dominant portion of society. In elementary school, but not really so much in junior high and high school, I distinctly recall that we were all thoroughly indoctrinated by the public education system into believing that Christopher Columbus was the greatest hero that had ever lived. We had to participate in various plays, skits and reenactments of Columbus’s landing in the New World. We were required to bring something from home related to Columbus Day to show and tell our enthused teachers and classmates. We often were made to deliver speeches on the merits of the voyage of discovery and how this expedition was the very source of all things good in this world of ours. How many little ships did I fashion from different types of paper, those all-too-primitive representations of the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria? For me during those years, Columbus was a demi-god, a near-deity to be adored, honored and even worshipped in an
entirely pre-programmed, empty-headed, uber-patriotic manner.   

It wasn’t until I went off to college in the mid-Seventies and took several history courses where I learned, among other things about the man, that Columbus was undeniably a pedophile of the worst kind, a trafficker of little girls.Under the direct supervision of Columbus, native girls were sold into sexual slavery, with some of them as young as nine or ten years old being the most desired by so-called “dealers” and customers in this sickening trade. Columbus even remarked in a log book that he maintained where he stated: “A hundred castellanoes (a unit of Spanish coinage of that era, most often gold) are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general and  there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls, with those of the ages of nine to ten years being the most in demand.”

Sexual slavery is commonly defined as the exercise of any or all of the powers attached to the “right of ownership” over a person. It consists of the repeated violation or sexual abuse or coercing of a victim to provide sexual services to include rape by the captor. The crime has the disgusting character of a continuous offense. Via modern international law, the definition of sexual slavery includes situations where persons are forced into domestic servitude, marriage or any other types of forced labor involving sexual activity, as well as the trafficking of persons, women and children in particular. That such perversities were allowed and even encouraged as bonafide business practices under Columbus was due to the fact that the native people whom Columbus first encountered were wholly regarded as sub-human, as no more than animal-like beings to be used for any purpose.

And what of Columbus’s men? A historian of that time, Peter Martyr, wrote that the men who served under Columbus were “debauchees, profligates, thieves, seducers, ravishers, vagabonds…given over to violence and rapine…lazy, gluttonous, caring only to sleep and carouse.”  The one word here that is the most alarming to me is “rapine,” which within the literary context of that time period meant “given to rape.” And rape, as we all know,
is the act of forced sexual intercourse.      

Besides establishing the value of female children as sexual commodities, Columbus and his crewmen came to view the native people of Hispaniola as simple beasts of burden, as willing slaves of extremely heavy, daily labor. The natives often worked in his gold mines until they perished of  sheer physical exhaustion. If any native worker did not deliver his or her quota of gold dust by the deadlines set by Columbus, the slave’s hands would be swiftly amputated by soldiers and tied around the neck in order to send a message that the gold quotas must at all times be met. At one point, one hundred of these slaves, no longer able to tolerate what was happening to them, killed themselves en masse and since Catholic law strictly forbade the enslavement of Christians, Columbus got around this particular problem area by refusing to have any native people baptized under any conditions. During Columbus’s second trip to the so-called New World, the intrepid mariner saw fit to bring along teams of vicious attack dogs. These dogs were trained to hunt down any slaves that tried to escape (if caught, they were burned alive). The dogs would invariably tear off the arms and legs of slaves upon capturing them or just rip them to shreds. And the Spaniards, being a cost-effective lot, quite often fed native infants to the attack dogs on those occasions when dog food ran low. Christopher Columbus obtained the lion’s share of his regular income from the native slave trade and he was also the first documented slave trader in the Americas. After all of the native slaves died off, they were rapidly replaced with slaves from Africa.  

Columbus’s campaign of unspeakable cruelty was so bad, even by the brutal standards of those days, that the Spanish Governor Francisco de Bobadilla had Columbus arrested, with two of his brothers, and bound in chains all three were sent back to Spain.Upon answering for their crimes against the natives, the King and Queen of Spain, glad beyond all measure that their royal coffers were being filled with gold, granted Columbus a full pardon setting him free to return to the islands to continue his work there.

Bartolome De Las Casas, a crewman of Columbus, was so deeply horrified by the violence being waged against the natives, that he entered the priesthood so that he could, in his own ministerial way, assist the native people. He gave descriptions as to how small children  who ran from the Spaniards had their legs cut off so that the sharpness of their blades could be tested.Wagers were placed among the men to see who was able to cut a person right in half with a single swipe of a sword. Native people also had their mouths filled with a crude soap that was boiling hot, which killed them agonizingly. De Las Casas witnessed in just one day how Spanish soldiers laughingly beheaded, mutilated or raped some 3000  natives.   

De Las Casas wrote: “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel. My eyes have seen these acts so  foreign to human nature that I now tremble as I write.” Father De Las Casas devoted the remainder of his life attempting to protect the lives and limbs of countless natives, who were very quickly vanishing as a people. It has been noted by numerous authorities on the subject that prior to 1492 the indigenous population numbered in excess of three million on the island of Hispaniola. 20 years after the Spanish had arrived, this number was reduced to some 60,000. Then a mere 50 years after Columbus first set foot in the “New World,” not a single native person among the original populace first encountered was alive there. 
But, I ask of myself: What does this have to do with me, today, as an American Indian? Whenever the name “Columbus” comes up in any way, shape or form, I am compelled to immediately think of two words, sexual slavery and genocide. And more specifically, to me, the legacy engendered by what constitutes this initial European treatment of the Western Hemisphere’s indigenous peoples continues today: the general belief within U.S. society that Indians are not worthy of being treated as human beings at all – and this is the ongoing system of oppression of Indian people that is yet so very pervasive. In my own life, how many times have I been “hated on,”discriminated against, misjudged, assessed as “less than,” evaluated as unimportant, and had to just eat bowl after bowl of other people’s excrement simply for being an Indian? The instances are so many as to be almost incalculable. Where does this kind of maltreatment have its origins? In the time of first contact between Europe and the Americas the grand stage was set for the sort of brutal stereotyping, bigotry, and prejudice that absolutely every Indian person I have ever met in my life has come to know. Ask virtually any Indian of any age, from any tribe, about their primary concern as an Indian and they will inform you of one thing and one thing only – how they are so awfully, so thoroughly, misunderstood by a society that either reveres and patronizes them out of a powerful sense of historical guilt or views them as insignificant, repulsive relics from a long bygone chapter or two of a history that the vast majority of them know next to nothing of.  

That Columbus Day remains as an annual celebration in most of the United States underscores the profound inability of this society to acknowledge actual historical facts that have been very well documented, facts that if were widely known would have changed America’s relationship with its indigenous peoples long ago by a country that proclaims itself to be the world’s sole bastion of truth, justice and freedom for all. Columbus Day is a perpetual glorification of murder, slavery and sexual perversity of the worst order, but more than that it is the very cradle of a demonically driven, wickedly embedded racism that is totally oblivious to any sense of morality, decency or even limits.     

Melvin Martin is an enrolled member of the Oglala Sioux Tribe of South Dakota. He is currently working on a novel about family dysfunction. And he can be reached for comment at