Come Monday, Oct. 14, it looks like Maine will be celebrating new holiday — and taking an important step toward setting the record straight.

Heading toward enactment in the Legislature is a bill that would change the second Monday in October from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, following a few other states and dozens of individual communities, including some in Maine, though the federal holiday for Columbus remains in place.

Since its creation in 1937, Columbus Day has celebrated the arrival in the New World of Italian explorer Christopher Columbus, another word here, who while searching for Far East trade routes for the Spanish crown landed instead in the Caribbean.

And it is a celebration — Columbus occupies a special place in the minds of many Americans who were told as schoolchildren of his bravery and skill in discovering America. In the myth of the beginning of the United States of America, there is a clear through-line from Columbus to the Pilgrims at Thanksgiving to the Founding Fathers;  each are presented as avatars of the American spirit, as explanations for why we are exceptional.

But we are only told the story from only one point of view, one that puts Columbus at the center. In that telling, Columbus’ arrival marks the beginning of civilization in the Americas, the first necessary step toward building what has become the world’s greatest superpower and a beacon of freedom across the world.

Columbus, of course, did play an important role in igniting the exploration of the New World, but it is not the heroic one portrayed in most textbooks.


First, the Americas before 1492 was not a place of vast undeveloped wilderness and a smattering of uncivilized tribes. There were remarkable cultures who deeply transformed the land around them through their own technologies. Some of them lived in cities larger and cleaner than those in Europe.

The civilizations that had built up in the “New World,” however, were wiped out by disease and war brought by the Europeans, then erased purposefully from the general consciousness.

Columbus’ arrival marked the beginning of the eradication. Though he encountered mostly friendly native inhabitants, Columbus considered them less than human, and quickly and without hesitation set about exploiting them.

In just one example, natives were forced to find gold, which was scarce; when they came up short, they were maimed or killed as punishment. Women were used as sex slaves. Others were taken back to Europe as slaves — their only real use, Columbus thought, and the beginning of the transatlantic slave trade.

The disease and weapons of Europeans would wipe out 90 percent of the natives. The rest would have their wealth and lands taken from them, and their cultures and beliefs were criminalized.

The Mayans and Incas would soon experience the same plunder of wealth and erasure of humanity, as would the Native American tribes and African slaves.

That story is more a part of American history than the landing of Columbus in the Caribbean. It deserves to be told and understood as part of the foundation of this country.

All this time, we’ve only been telling part of the story. Starting Oct. 14, it looks like we’ll get to tell the rest of it.


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