Ever since I learned a bit of history, many years ago, I’ve wondered why we in the U.S. have Columbus Day. He was not even the first European to set foot in what eventually became the U.S.–indeed, he never set foot there at all.

I am not of the school that thinks of indigenous peoples–in the Americas or elsewhere–as beneficent, peaceful idealists whose paradise was shattered by the arrival of outsiders–European or otherwise. Oh, maybe in an isolated village here or there the scenario was something like that. But overall, I have been and remain unpersuaded that humans in general in any time or place are much different from humans in general in every other time and place. Certainly humans have created cultures and societies that each of us, according to our own values, might consider “better” or “worse” than what we have. Certainly in some times and places the really horrible elements (by my standards, of course) have attained such ascendancy that they seem “Other.” Have there been times and places where the very best elements (by my standards, of course) have attained such ascendancy? I can’t think of any offhand, but that doesn’t mean it couldn’t happen.

Indigenous peoples, in the Americas and elsewhere, were/are no exception. The Americas’ indigenous peoples had war, slavery, human sacrifice, and pretty much every other human evil, along with pretty much every human good. Because they were … well, HUMANS. The invaders had–as triumphant invaders usually do, it seems*–superior technology.

But back to Columbus Day. Why do we in the U.S. honor him? If it’s because he was a great adventurer, yes, he was, but so were many other, and earlier, Europeans. So was Zhang Qian, to name just one non-European. Even if we stick with the Americas and the explorers for whom we have individual names and evidence, we have no Eric the Red Day, no Cabot Day, no De Soto Day. I admit that we have a Leif Erikson Day, but how many people know about it? If what we want to celebrate is Europeans arriving in what is now the U.S., any of those or several others would be more appropriate. “Columbus Day” is just silly.

But if we want to celebrate the fact that HUMANS eventually arrived in what is now the U.S., I can think of no better replacement for Columbus Day than Indigenous Peoples Day.

*Not always. I just copyedited a book on the Chinese Civil War, Chiang Kai-shek vs. Mao Zedong.

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