STAFF EDITORIAL: Vanderbilt needs to denounce Columbus Day


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Seattle, Washington, USA – October 12, 2014: Protesters block the 4th Avenue downtown corridor street in Seattle, holding a large sign, in protest against Christopher Columbus and the establishment of Columbus Day. Getty Images.

Editorial Board

Content warning: sexual assault, violence

This year, Nashville decided to join other progressive communities like Charlottesville and Austin in denouncing Columbus Day. Mayor Megan Barry signed a proclamation that declared the second Monday of October “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” In doing this, she acknowledges the native genocide and places the culture of indigenous people over the myth of Columbus.

For a long time, Christopher Columbus has been seen as a symbol of the American Experiment. He was a determined explorer who wouldn’t take no for an answer. He willed his way into unchartered territory. He is responsible for our presence on this continent. Yes, the romantic image of Columbus can be seen as a noble manifestation of this nation’s spirit.  

A holiday for Columbus is a slap in the face to indigenous people whose ancestors were murdered by Columbus

But romance is not reality. And the reality is that Columbus and his men were murderers, rapists and pedophiles. In his chilling book “American Holocaust,” David Stannard describes the savage acts that these “heroes” committed. Live people were fed to dogs, their entrails and limbs torn apart. The dogs became so accustomed to eating humans that the bodies of indigenous people were sold at markets. The settlers would take a cut of meat and feed it to their beasts.

Along with hunting down people for sport, Columbus’s men had no qualms about stealing the bodies of the women and children. Mass rapes were ubiquitous. Moreover, these rapists are cited as preferring children–some as young as nine and ten years old. The creatures terrorizing the coasts were so feared that villages often executed mass suicides so as not to face the horror of the invaders.

Are we okay with statues and parades celebrating a rapist? A murderer? If Columbus were alive today, he would not be memorialized. He would be a national villain, making Ted Bundy and Jeffrey Dahmer look tame. We wouldn’t deify them. It would be an insult to the people they murdered. Likewise, a holiday for Columbus is a slap in the face to indigenous people whose ancestors were murdered by Columbus and people like him.

That is why Megan Barry decided to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day. And it is also why Vanderbilt’s silence on the matter is problematic. Yes, an indigenous professor was invited to talk about the indigenous genocide. But Vandy needs to go further. The Native Americans in Tennessee Interacting at Vanderbilt called on the administration to join other major institutions like Brown, Cornell and Syracuse in implementing Indigenous Peoples’ Day. If it does not answer this call, it will demonstrate that Vanderbilt cannot take the time to right wrongs and show empathy towards its indigenous students.

When October rolls around next year, we hope that Vanderbilt will stand against the actions of predatory settlers and stand with indigenous people.