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Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro

Managing Editor

Photo taken by Mel Rising Dawn Cordeiro

"They have no arms, and are without warlike instincts; they all go naked, and are so timid that a thousand would not stand before three of our men. So that they are good to be ordered about, to work and sow, and do all that may be necessary, and to build towns, and they should be taught to go about clothed and to adopt our customs."

This quote, taken from one of the many journals belonging to the explorer Christopher Columbus, shows his mindset regarding the land and people he “discovered.” From this quote, it can be understood that Columbus eventually had a negative connotation towards the Indigenous populations.

Boozhoo, aanii. Aniish na? Niin Biidaaban nindizhinikaaz. Greetings, hello. How are you? My name is Rising Dawn. I would like to take this opportunity to share with you a Native’s perspective on Christopher Columbus.

It is true that Columbus and his expedition never reached North America, though his actions in South America are felt throughout Indian Country. In actuality, Columbus was the first European to lay eyes on the Bahamas, which he named Hispaniola, which is now Haiti and the Dominican Republic.

An Italian born man, Columbus was hired by King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Portugal, and eventually the Spanish crown, to aid in finding easier Eastern trade routes. Instead, Columbus found South America, thinking he had found India. Columbus did not “discover” any land, as the lands he came upon were already occupied. Columbus did bring items for trade; he brought coffee, new breeds of horses, turnips, grapes and wine, and he also brought something else that initially was not intended for the Indigenous. He brought germs. These germs later became smallpox, typhoid fever, the flu and the measles, just to name a few. These germs, especially smallpox, later became used as biological weapons.

The Indigenous of the New World were eager to participate in what later became known as the Columbian Exchange. They sent potatoes, tomatoes, tobacco and other products back to Europe as part of this exchange. At first, relations with Columbus and his crew were quite smooth, and Columbus even wrote in his journal that, “The Indians are so naive and so free with their possessions that no one who has not witnessed them would believe it. When you ask for something they have, they never say, 'no.’ To the contrary, they offer to share with anyone.”

In 1492, when Columbus sailed the ocean blue, the international slave trade was starting to grow. On his first day in the Carribean, though it is not known which island he landed on, he ordered the capture of six Indigenous, stating that he believed that they would be good slaves. Captures continued for years as he ordered the removal of thousands of Taino people, shipping them back to Spain to be sold as slaves. This meant that the remaining Taino were forced by Columbus, now the viceroy and governor of the “Indies” lands, to work in gold mines and plantations, as the Taino people became victims of forced labor policies enacted for the profit of the governor. Within 60 years of his presence, the Taino population fell from an estimated 250,000 to just a few hundred.

During his jurisdiction, the remaining Taino people attempted to overthrow Columbus numerous times. Unfortunately, this only resulted in further killings and the bodies of those killed were ordered to be paraded in the streets as a reminder to mind their position.

Eventually, his methods and actions caught up to him, as numerous European settlers filed complaints against him in the Spanish court system, accusing Columbus of mismanagement. In 1500, the Spanish monarchy sent a royal administrator to the New World. Columbus, as well as others who worked closely with him, were detained and sent back to Spain. He did eventually gain his freedom and make a fourth return voyage to the New World, though he had lost all claims to be governor, as well as most of his prestige. Unfortunately, this was only the beginning of the colonization of Indigenous people across Turtle Island.

As far back as 1990, it has been suggested that America “do away” with Columbus Day, citing that Columbus didn't discover anything and instead colonized the Taino. The first ever Columbus Day holiday was observed on Oct 12, 1792, the 300th anniversary of his landing. In its place, Indigenous peoples are celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, which in turn celebrates the cultures and contributions of the Indigenous. 12 states, not including Rhode Island, have adopted Idegenous Peoples Day in place of Columbus Day.

The point of history is to learn about our past, not to erase it and not to repeat it. The true story of Columbus is tragic, but it is important to teach the truth. That is the goal of Indigenous Peoples Day; to tell the Nation that we are still here, that colonizers like Columbus were not able to eliminate us. There is certainly controversy about what should be taught, but both sides can exist in harmony with respect. Both sides can be taught simultaneously; Columbus invaded and whitewashed the Indigenous and the Indigenous, through many travesties, lost their ways of life.

Miigwech, ᐃᓐᑎᓇᐌᒫᑲᓂᑐᒃ, gibizindaamin ikidowinan

(Miigwech, Indinawemaaganidog, gibizindaamin ikidowinan)

Thank you, all my relations, as we listen to the words


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