Happy Columbus Day! Or are you one of those Indigenous People's Day weenies?
For the first time this year, Seattle and Minneapolis will recognize the second Monday in October as "Indigenous People's Day." The cities join a growing list of jurisdictions choosing to shift the holiday's focus from Christopher Columbus to the people he encountered in the New World and their modern-day descendants.
The Seattle City Council voted last week to reinvent the holiday to celebrate "the thriving cultures and values of Indigenous Peoples in our region." The Minneapolis City Council approved a similar measure in April "to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that Dakota, Ojibwa and other indigenous nations add to our city."
Not to disparage "Native Americans," but there's no such thing. Every person on this continent came from somewhere else. If we want to celebrate People Who Got Here First Day, fine. If you believe the evidence of Kennewick Man, by the way, people got here even earlier than we once thought.
Owsley said Kennewick Man is causing scientists to re-think how humans first came to this continent. He said humans came to North America thousands of years earlier than was previously thought.
The traditional theory is that people came by foot across the Bering Strait on a land bridge that once existed between Asia and what is now Alaska. But the existence of Kennewick Man, he said, is evidence of boat use: "They had boats coming into the New World much earlier, and that he is from these East Asian coastal populations."
We do a great disservice to the past -- and our own understanding of the present -- by judging flawed historical figures by today's standards. Columbus was a product of his time and culture, and, for all the bad things we might say about him, his achievement was remarkable:
At the end of 1492 most men in Western Europe felt exceedingly gloomy about the future. Christian civilization appeared to be shrinking in area and dividing into hostile units as its sphere contracted. For over a century there had been no important advance in natural science and registration in the universities dwindled as the instruction they offered became increasingly jejune and lifeless. Institutions were decaying, well-meaning people were growing cynical or desperate, and many intelligent men, for want of something better to do, were endeavoring to escape the present through studying the pagan past. . . .
Yet, even as the chroniclers of Nuremberg were correcting their proofs from Koberger’s press, a Spanish caravel named Nina scudded before a winter gale into Lisbon with news of a discovery that was to give old Europe another chance. In a few years we find the mental picture completely changed. Strong monarchs are stamping out privy conspiracy and rebellion; the Church, purged and chastened by the Protestant Reformation, puts her house in order; new ideas flare up throughout Italy, France, Germany and the northern nations; faith in God revives and the human spirit is renewed. The change is complete and startling: “A new envisagement of the world has begun, and men are no longer sighing after the imaginary golden age that lay in the distant past, but speculating as to the golden age that might possibly lie in the oncoming future.”
Christopher Columbus belonged to an age that was past, yet he became the sign and symbol of this new age of hope, glory and accomplishment. His medieval faith impelled him to a modern solution: Expansion.