The Edmonds City Council passed a resolution making October 9th both Columbus Day and Indigenous People’s Day. Per the resolution, the naming of Indigenous People’s Day was to provide “a more balanced representation of our region’s cultural history.“
As history shows, Christopher Columbus wasn’t the greatest person. He collected slaves and tortured natives. Naming a day after Columbus is an insult to native peoples… even though Columbus never made it to this region. So why do we celebrate a guy who never set foot in our country in the first place? The reason is ironic. Columbus Day was declared a federal holiday to provide “a more balanced representation of our region’s cultural history“ (as the Edmonds City Council would have put it).
For most of our history the seat of power in this country was Protestant. Anti-Catholicism was a significant component in the Mexican-American War. People argued that Irish immigrants couldn’t be Americans at all because they were loyal to the Vatican, which was a foreign state. A careful reading of our history will show that the Protestant Reformation was tinder for the Civil War and the movement was more about fighting southern Catholics for the sake of fighting Catholics (i.e. Protestant crusade) than being against slavery. Eventually, those in power had to recognize that Catholics were Americans too, and that they voted.
Franklin D Roosevelt declared Columbus Day as a way to “virtue signal” to Catholics – and it paid off in the form of votes. What made John F. Kennedy’s election most remarkable was that it served as a symbolic end to znti-Catholicism in the United States. Kennedy’s presidency, itself, was an accomplishment that brought the nation together and, as president, he didn’t ruin relations between people of different faiths by wearing his religion (Catholic) on his sleeve.
Here are some comments on last week’s article, “City Council: In Edmonds, it will be Indigenous Peoples Day, not Columbus Day“:
Thomas Barnes: “Columbus was a great explorer no different than present day astronauts. He should be honored as such.”
Laura Johnson: “Have present day astronauts tortured, murdered and enslaved?”
Me: “No, but plenty of ancient astronauts did.”
I’m making an argument for moral relativity. Yes, Columbus was a cruel human, but he was also a brilliant explorer and navigator. Everyone was cruel in the 15th Century, but there were few brilliant explorers. The Americas were no different. Harvard psychologist Steven Pinker  writes, “quantitative body counts — such as the proportion of prehistoric skeletons with ax marks and embedded arrowheads or the proportion of men in a contemporary foraging tribe who die at the hands of other men — suggest that pre-state societies were far more violent than our own.”
Pinker is writing about what is commonly known in academia as the Myth of the Nobel Savage. Washington State University archaeologist Tim Kohler has studied our cultural region for decades and has put forward the argument that the most violent time in American history may have been before white settlers ever arrived. His studies have focused on quantitative analysis of remains, cataloging head trauma and weapon marks on bones, and has concluded that violence was an integral part of Native American life. My lay understanding is that hunter-gatherers hunt and gather until the area is exploited, and then they move to a new area. Many times where they choose to move is already occupied by other hunter-gathers, and that creates conflict and all of the aforementioned atrocities that come with conflict.
Ironically, portraying Native Americans in the 15th century as simple traders who lived in harmony with the environment and their neighbors is a racial stereotype. A big difference in what we know about the ill deeds of Christopher Columbus over the ill deeds of other peoples from that time is that Columbus wrote his down, but we are left to sift through the remains of the victims of the latter.
History is full of some pretty ugly stuff by contemporary standards, and it’s awkward when we mix history and political convenience. People’s feeling get hurt when you ham-hand this stuff. What’s divisive is when politicians stand up for one group of people by #TakingTheKnee on another group. The Edmonds City Council forgot about Catholics when they chose to rename a holiday which was intended to remind people about Catholics. A different date could have been chosen as a good compromise, but instead Indigenous People’s Day is the same day as Columbus Day, which implicitly means “chose one.” That’s divisive. The City Council should stay out of all this. It’s not in their charter.
By Matt Richardson, Edmonds