Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

The Blog offers information about Indigenous women spanning topics from current events in Indian Country to book reviews to discussion of Indigenous women’s cultural histories and ritual cycles relating to the Earth. Above all, there are the voices of Indigenous women as they present themselves.

  • Home
    Home This is where you can find all the blog posts throughout the site.
  • Tags
    Tags Displays a list of tags that have been used in the blog.
  • Bloggers
    Bloggers Search for your favorite blogger from this site.
  • Login
    Login Login form

Columbus Day: The History We Were Not Taught


For folks who have the day off this Monday, October 12 in celebration of Columbus Day, the holiday may seem like a good enough idea.

As school children in America, most of us learned that in 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed across the Atlantic Ocean from Spain looking for a new world. When he landed in what is now called the Caribbean Islands, he thought he was in the East Indies (Japan, the Philippines, Indonesia, etc.) and thus named the Indigenous inhabitants there "Indians." The way this story is delivered to us as children seems benign, perhaps even exciting and heroic, as we imagine an Italian sailing into "uncharted" waters to discover "unclaimed" lands.

But there is a lot more for us to learn from Christopher Columbus about Native peoples and about European policies from the 15th century. For example, upon landing on the shores of the Caribbean Island, Columbus wrote about the Native Caribbean peoples in his journal, saying:

"They are so ingenious and free with all they have,

that no one would believe it who has not seen it;

of anything that they possess, if it be asked of them,

they never say no; on the contrary,

they invite you to share it and show as much love

as if their hearts went with it."

This is a beautiful passage showing the cultural values of the Native people, values that were held by most Native American nations across Turtle Island. From reading the words of Columbus, we would perhaps naturally think that he befriended the Native people, learned from them, and treated them with respect. Unfortunately, that could not be further from reality. b2ap3_thumbnail_Taino-mother.jpg

What we know from the journals of Columbus is that a campaign of terror ensued after he and his crew landed.

Native women and girls were attacked and kidnapped--sold into sexual slavery and taken by the scores aboard the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria.

Once Columbus and his crew realized that they could easily subdue the Native peoples who had not placed their resources into making military weapons, they soon conquered them, murdered them, and stole their land and all its wealth.

This is not the teaching we learn as American children. We do not learn that the voyage of Christopher Columbus opened the Americas to European colonization and began an era of genocide that would last for several hundred years.


Columbus Dog Hunts


Abolishing Columbus Day

Why does the history of Columbus matter today? Because the effects of colonization have not ended for Native American people. The policies against Native peoples continue to exist without the knowledge of mainstream Americans because what happens in Native communities seldom makes national news. I believe most Americans would be outraged by statistics on homelessness, police violence, and incarceration rates of Native American peoples, if only they were reported in the national news. Bringing Native history and experiences of today to the forefront can make a big difference in the lives of Native people, most especially Native children. Abolishing Columbus Day is an important step in that process.

Eight American cities have abolished the Columbus Day holiday and renamed it Indigenous People's Day. They are: Albuquerque, New Mexico; Lawrence, Kansas; Portland, Oregon; St. Paul, Minnesota; Bexar County, Texas; Anadarko, Oklahoma; Olympia, Washington; and Alpena, Michigan. There are several other cities that are voting on abolishing the holiday as well. What's happening in your city? Not celebrating Columbus or the aftermath of his voyage is a matter relevant to not only Native Americans, but to all Americans.b2ap3_thumbnail_dyami-thomas-portland-city-council.jpg


 This is a photograph of Klamath/Leech Lake Ojibway actor Dyami Thomas giving testimony to the Portland City Council about never being taught the truth about Columbus in school. What were you taught about Columbus and what are the children in your life taught? This year, let's bring Christopher Columbus and American history out of the shadows of the past and into the light of the 21st century where they can be given a full hearing, and healing.

Accurate tellings of history matter to the living--we are standing on those stories.



Last modified on
Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


Additional information