Native American Day/Columbus Day

Depending on where you live, today’s national holiday may be called Columbus Day or Native American Day. We call it Native American Day where I live but it was Columbus Day where I grew up.

The “discovery” of the new world by Columbus is a hot topic for debate. Many other cultures claim to have landed in the Americas long before 1492 (Norsemen, Chinese explorers, sailors from India and possibly African explorers.)

The other controversy is of course the way in which the Spanish came looking for gold. They left disease behind and they took Native People as slaves. I have heard, though, that syphilis may have originated in the Americas, so that’s a pretty fitting exchange for all the diseases and devastation the conquistadors and colonists brought with them.

My book choice today is Encounter by Jane Yolen, with David Shannon as the illustrator.

There are no recorded accounts of the first meeting from the Taino people, but Yolen thought it would be interesting to tell their side of the story. The story is told by a boy who dreams of terrible birds who appear in the ocean.

When he sees the great canoes arrive, he knows these visitors should not be welcomed. The Chief does not listen to him though, for he is not yet a man. The Taino people did what they always did, and greeted their strange visitors with a feast and gifts.

The boy’s perception of the men (whom he says are not quite human, with their pale skin, light eyes and parrot-colored clothing) is not necessarily a pleasant one.

The boy is momentarily drawn in by the gifts of beads and bells, but he can see the greed in their ‘snake-like’ smiles. The boy is one of the natives taken back to the ships, eventually to become slaves, but the boy jumps ship and sets out to warn his people, but few listen and he cannot change what is destined to be.

So it was we lost our lands to the strangers from the sky. We gave our souls to their gods. We took their speech into our mouths, forgetting our own. Our sons and daughters became their sons and daughters, no longer true humans, no longer ours.

In 1492, the Taino people were the most populous people in the Caribbean. Within 50 years they were almost completely wiped out by disease and the actions of the Spanish.

I am not saying that Columbus was a bad man. Obviously, nothing could have prevented the spread of Man across the globe, we are after all, an invasive species. I don’t agree with greed being the motivation for exploration of new frontiers, but not everyone is going to see things my way.

Columbus’s account of the first contact was recorded, and you can click the link to read it on the Library of Congress website.

Just a final quote from the book:

May it be a warning to all the children and all the people in every land.

As we begin to explore the frontier of outer space, I hope we, the human race, have learned our lesson. I think it’s eventual that we will find other life in the Universe and we have to consciously decide how we will treat them. The flip side is to consider how we would want to be treated by a new race who “discovers” our planet and our resources it the future.

Advertisements Share this:
Like this:Like Loading... Related