Suzanne Downing: Cast off Columbus Day? Read all about it before you do




Columbus Day — Monday — is when we won’t be able to bank or visit our favorite federal bureaucrats.

Thanks a lot, Christopher Columbus.

The feds will close in honor of an explorer who did not actually discover the Americas so much as he bumped into some inhabited islands and lands already filled with people, some of whom had developed complicated cultures, languages, and even had a written record. 

Leaving aside the unheralded accomplishments of Leif Ericsson and Polynesian explorers, readers know that Columbus Day is marked by sales fit for the bank accounts of the federal workforce. No one else marks the day but banks, which follow the feds.

In Alaska, Gov. Bill Walker went trendy a couple of years ago and signed a proclamation changing the recognition to “Indigenous People’s Day,” in honor of the folks roaming and abiding here long before Columbus made landfall.

Except that Christopher Columbus never made landfall in North America. He landed on Hispaniola, where today two countries coexist: Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

Columbus made four trips, beginning in 1492 with the three ships we know as the Nina, Pinta, and Santa Maria.

The brutish Italian navigator explored the Central and South American coasts. His explorations were historic for a Spanish kingdom that celebrated exploration and expansion.

As with many of his time, Columbus was not a benevolent ruler of the islands he governed. In fact, Spain brought him up on cruelty charges and he lost his post when it became known what he was up to in the New World.

Columbus was, by today’s standards, a monster. But so was Genghis Khan and his Mongols, and Uganda’s Idi Amin, centuries later. So are the Taliban and Isis.

History is replete with monsters not worth celebrating, but we remember them for a while as we pass along the lore of our time on earth.

Former Gov. Bill Walker wrote, “Alaska is built upon the homelands and communities of the Indigenous Peoples of this region, without whom the building of the state would not be possible.”

Walker said in his word-salad proclamation that 16 percent of Alaskans have indigenous heritage, and that “the State opposes systematic racism toward Indigenous Peoples of Alaska or any Alaskans of any origin and promotes policies and practices that reflect the experiences of Indigenous Peoples, ensure greater access and opportunity, and honor our nation’s indigenous roots, history.”

There’s no consensus on what the “experiences of indigenous people” means, but tribes of the Pacific Northwest also engaged in slave trading and ownership, like Columbus did on Hispaniola. Tlingits were known to trade their daughters for blankets. Chief Sealth (Seattle), a legendary warrior and slave owner, wiped out the Chimakum tribe near Port Townsend around 1847. That was genocide.

History is full of inconvenient truths, but this one is unavoidable: The Americas were not a Garden of Equal Opportunity Eden before European stock arrived. When politicians pretend that pre-contact tribes were more noble than the European stock that followed, they bow to myth and legend and try to bend race politics into proclamations.

The historical record doesn’t support celebrating Columbus Day, nor does it support Indigenous People’s Day as a passive-aggressive snub of Columbus’ European ilk.

Better to call it “Historical Accuracy Day,” a day when all Americans can wag their fingers at each other as they correct the timeline of mankind’s hustle and bustle of discovery.

Must Read Alaska’s reading list for Columbus Day:

  • Seven Myths of the Spanish Conquest, by Mathew Restall.
  • Conquering Paradise: Christopher Columbus and the Columbian Legacy, by Kirkpatrick Sale
  • 1491: New Revelations of the Americas Before Columbus, by Charles Mann
  • 1493: Uncovering the World Columbus Created, also by Charles Mann

(This column first appeared in Must Read Alaska in 2017.)


  1. How about we just call it “Indignant People’s Day” instead?
    It is true that Columbus did not “discover” America. Even among Europeans, the Norse certainly visited and even tried to settle North America long before Columbus, English fishermen out of Bristol likely visited and fished in Newfoundland a decade or two before Columbus, and there is even evidence of at least an accidental visit by Romans to South America. But all of that takes nothing away from the importance of Columbus’ (re)discovery of the New World for Europeans, because that visit started the wave of colonization of the New World that changed it rapidly and forever. One can point out the sins and faults of, and demonize, Columbus all one wants, but nobody can deny his monumental legacy in and on the Americas.

  2. The written record is replete with first hand accounts of the inhumanity of even sainted indigenous humans, including the fatal and genocidal conflicts between various Tlingit, Athabaskan, Inupiat and other proud people groups. We do no one any favors by selling a notion that membership in a group bestows virtue. And we further dissolve the tender fabric of civil society when we discount the weight of personal accountability in action, regardless of group identity.

  3. The only folks that I know that have a God given right to a land are the Jewish people and they are not indigenous to the land.

  4. Columbus Day isn’t really about who Columbus was nor even so much the things he did but, unlike Leif Ericsson who’s discoveries obviously led to basically nothing, what Columbus did lead the the turning point of Western/Christian civilization and the throwing off of 800 years of Islamic horrors. Up until the 1600’s actually, the Muslim nations had conquered 2/3rds of Christian nations and basically surrounded the vast majority of Europe, constantly engaging them in major wars and cutting off trade (which is what made countries rich in the Middle Ages). Long/short is that Columbus’s accomplishments led to not only the opening up of the entire Western Hemisphere, bringing Jesus to billions, enriching Europe so they could finally defeat the Muslim invaders, led to the Industrial Revolution and the greatest nation in the history of the planet, the United States, and also made Europeans educated and wealthy enough enough to end slavery (of which, again, the Muslims not only supplied but murdered 114 MILLION African people to acquire). The entire anti-Columbus movement (and host of lies about him, BTW) is nothing more than yet another leftist/communist agenda to rip America, Western values and Christianity.

  5. SD , hope your not comparing Columbus to ISIS and the like. That’s crazy.
    Columbus the man is one thing, Spain the country is another.
    You may seek some balance and add to your reading list “ The light and the glory” by Peter Marshall and David Manuel.
    Thanks for your MRAK. Really appreciate it.

  6. Like Howard Zinn, Charles C. Mann has almost zero respect in the academic historian community (indeed Mann is not even a trained historian, but a journalist).
    Mann is a global warming activist who’s highest ideal is in population control/reduction.
    May I suggest Dr. Carol Delaney on the subject? Although she is trained in anthropology and not history, her book ‘Columbus and the Quest for Jerusalem’ is excellent on the subject and written with decent scholarship.

  7. LoL. Spain being the good guys in this write up. I like Columbus day, or more accurately manifest destiny day. Without it, America wouldn’t have been around to defeat the Nazis. If you can’t keep land, do you truly own it?

  8. Good piece, Suzanne. Your writing is so much more crisp, accurate and truthful than that of Dermot Troll Cole. As for Bill Walker’s proclamation about indigenous people; it was pure pandering and appeasement to the Native radicals. His Lt. Governor was a child molester who tried to gain a foothold on the young and naive as a Native elder who courted “privileges” with the ladies. Tell me that isn’t akin to brokering power over the defenseless. People like Bill Walker, who espouses that race shaming is inherent among White people, should not be allowed to gain political office. Bill Walker is as much a corrupt and disgraced man today, as he was when he was governor.

    • Transformational “Indigent People’s Day” should include the full record of child abuse and pedophilia by Native Elders against their own people. Let’s be honest about THIS record, since we are now being encouraged to tell the world about our culture and how it eclipses the record of technology and development by early New World explorers. Much shame can be cast by our own people when celebrating this day. Byron Mallott is Exhibit A, and the primary reason our family will not vote for disgraceful Bill Walker again.

  9. Might or might not be an inconvenient truth or theory accepted as truth. But maybe some others of a legit claim as aboriginals by none other than the Smithsonian: “”

  10. Please… enough of the silliness. Columbus day is really ” Italian American Day” . Not unlike what St Patrick’s day is for the Irish. Can we just agree of the importance of celebrating the achievements and contributions of our Italian community? Isn’t that what diversity is supposed to be about?

    • No it isn’t about the Italians having their special day. They had their day already and I think it was called the fall of the Roman empire. You don’t get two days. Saint Patrick drove the snakes out of Ireland. I hate snakes plus they have good beer.

      • Greg, actually the Germans make much better beer then do the Irish. However the Irish make the best Whiskey. Got that? Good.
        My point is that we should celebrate Italian day. ( especially Northern Italian) because…. the remainder of Northern Europe is a culinary waste land, save France. Come on Greg, nobody orders out for Norwegian food. We are blessed to have Italians in our midst, along with Mexicans and Chinese/ Vietnamese/ Phililpinos. I shudder to think what our food would be like…
        BTW, my heritage sacked Rome. Ostrogothic Pride!

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