Christopher Columbus: A Canadian Legacy of Horror and Shame, Not Pride
Updated: Aug 11, 2022
The Gradual Unveiling of Truth:
Christopher Columbus, a Canadian Legacy of Horror and Shame,
University of Regina
Indigenous Studies 100
February 26, 2009
Please note that using the term 'Indian' is not socially acceptable when describing Indigenous peoples today. Original context has been kept while quoting from other sources from the past.
The great Christopher Columbus has been portrayed in most classrooms all over the world as a hero. It is recently however that the truth has begun to peek its ugly face into these same classrooms. Did Christopher Columbus actually discover Canada? Why was he given this honour while others arrived long before him? Vikings (Lief Ericsson) landed in the New World around 1000AD in which he called Vinland. This landing is no longer fiction as the Viking settlement was discovered in 1960 at L'Anse aux Meadows in Newfoundland. In 1398, a Scottish and Norwegian nobleman named Henry Sinclair was also said to have sailed to Nova Scotia with a fleet of his ships, supposedly carrying the last of the exiled Knights Templar and their sacred treasure. Disregarded as ridiculous conspiracy, this is not in the widely accepted history books, but Henry Sinclair's presence was recorded in Mi'kmaq legends about Glooskap and was also identified in relation to the New Ross ruins that were supposedly constructed as a refuge for the fleeing Knights Templar. The legends are far to distant in time to be about Leif, but one never knows for sure. The structures were very different though. The old ruins at New Ross are of stone. So we are left with the historical lie that in 1492 Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered the New World. The Italian explorer even got his own (US) Federal holiday named after his 'great achievements. However, the great achievements of old that had been placed upon Columbus's golden plate have been revealed as fraudulent.
The great Christopher Columbus who did many acts in God's name (who was his god?) is now being revealed as a slave trader.. This narrative-style mini paper has one purpose, to educate individuals who have not heard of the atrocities that befell the "decorous and praiseworthy" Taino/Arawak Indians (Columbus's own words). "Mass enslavement, amputation for sport, and genocide claimed over four million people in four years" (Cramblit, 2006). Christopher Columbus a legacy of horror and shame, not pride. Lacking modern weaponry, he remarked upon their tactical vulnerability, writing, "I could conquer the whole of them with 50 men, and govern them as I pleased." (Wikipedia, 2009).
The Gradual Unveiling of Truth
Christopher Columbus (1451 – 1506) was an Italian-born Spanish navigator who sailed "west across the Atlantic Ocean in search of a route to Asia but achieved fame by making landfall in the Americas instead" (Thomas C. Tirado, 2008). Intending to find a direct route by sea to Asia, he unintentionally stumbled upon the Americas. It is between 1492 and 1504 that Columbus's four separate voyages to the Caribbean brought much history, a history that was once glorified. Columbus's explorations indeed had a profound impact on our world. "They led directly to the opening of the western hemisphere to European colonization; to large-scale exchanges of plants, animals, cultures, and ideas between the two worlds" (Thomas C. Tirado, 2008). However, what history is beginning to leak out this decade, seems to far over-shadow Columbus's accidental greatness; death to millions of Indigenous peoples of America, slavery, and disease that plagued 1492 to 1504 and beyond. These atrocious acts set into motion a chain of events that have altered human history on a global scale, and is still being felt and witnessed to this very day.
The movement that was set into motion starting in 1492 was the Indigenous stereotype of 'barbarian'. The European settlers didn't understand the Lucayan people or otherwise known as the Taino/Arawak, inhabitants of the Bahamas, nor did they try. There was an estimated 40,000 Lucayans by the 12th century (middle ages) in the Bahamas. According to Wikipedia, Columbus described these peoples as handsome, graceful, well-proportioned, gentle, generous and peaceful. I could safely assume that humbly learning from these people or sharing with them was far from his mind. Their 'primitive' lifestyles were shunned and their people looked at no more than slaves. Everything that the Lucayan's inspired to over centuries and all that their peoples accomplished on that land were put under European foot. The beauty of a once vibrant culture was sent into a downward spiral, a downward spiral under the influence of a so-called American hero. One could say that Christopher Columbus initiated the almost successful cultural genocide of the Indigenous peoples of Canada. This movement "can only be described as one of the greatest tragedies of all time" (Thomas C. Tirado, 2008).
Where is the Gold?
After returning from his first expedition, Columbus was drastically in need of more funding, if he was to immediately return. After much persistence, he gained favour with the Spanish Monarch's Queen Isabella by misquoting copious amounts of scripture as a form of manipulation along with promises of wealth and slaves. It sounded like he didn't really think that through very well. Columbus received extensive financial support from the Spanish monarch "but only on the condition that [he] would repay this investment with profit by bringing back gold, spices, and other tributes from Asia.
From the main base in Haiti, expeditions were sent in search of gold. Apparently no gold was found and a frantic Columbus set out to take whatever he could to repay his debts. 1495 marked the year of the great slave raid. Fifteen hundred Taino/Arawak men, women, and children were violently rounded up and "put into pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs" (Zinn, 2007). Of the 500 best specimens picked to survive and make the journey, only 200 survived to be inducted into the brutal slave trade. Columbus wrote, "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold" (Zinn, 2007). I still to this day do not understand how he, associated what he was doing with God. This clearly was not a man that read from the scriptures.
Too many of the slaves died in captivity so back to Cicao on Haiti to put a death sentence on the peoples of that island. "They ordered all persons fourteen years or older to collect a certain quantity of gold every three months. When they brought it, they were given copper tokens to hang around their necks. 'Indians' (named by Columbus himself) found without a copper token had their hands cut off and bled to death" (Zinn, 2007). This caused chaos, as the only gold around was "bits of dust garnered from the streams. So they fled, were hunted down with dogs, and were killed" (Zinn, 2007).
In two years, 250,00 Indigenous peoples in Haiti were dead from mass suicide, parents killing infants to save them from the Spaniards, murder, and mutilation. "A report of the year 1650 shows none of the original Taino/Arawak people or their descendants were left on the island" (Zinn, 2007). One could say genocide complete but some would argue that Columbus's aim was not in destroying this group of people, it was pure greed that drove this man and these people were just money to him, not human beings.
Columbus did not prove that the world was round, he did not find a passageway to Asia, and he did not quote scripture in the proper context. Columbus did however capture slaves to transport back to Spain and to "work in mines and plantations which he, his family, and followers created throughout the Caribbean. His marauding band hunted Indians for sport and profit – beating, raping, torturing, killing, and then using the Indian bodies as food for their hunting dogs" (Paul, 2003).
This was the great cultural encounter initiated by Christopher Columbus. This event was celebrated each year on Columbus Day. "The United States honours only two men with federal holidays bearing their names…Martin Luther King, Jr., who struggled to lift the blinders of racial prejudice and to cut the remaining bonds of slavery in America…and Columbus who opened the Atlantic slave trade and launched one of the greatest waves of genocide knowing in history" (Paul, 2003).
Although we have come a long way together, today the Indigenous peoples of Canada still face serious discrimination and "lack adequate healthcare and housing, receive pitiful education, and face daunting barriers to economic opportunity. (Cramblit, 2006). A legacy of pride? I think not.
Cramblit, A. (2006, Oct 9). It's Columbus Day - What are we celebrating for? Retrieved
Feb 23, 2009, from Daniel N Paul: http://www.danielnpaul.com/ChristopherColumbus.html
Paul, D. (2003, Sept 26). Christopher Columbus. Retrieved Feb 23, 2009, from White
Supremacist Mentality: http:/www.danielnpaul.com/ChristopherColumbus.html
Thomas C. Tirado, B. M. (2008, Jan 01). Christopher Columbus. (1. -2. Reserved.,
Producer) Retrieved Feb 22, 2009, from Microsoft Encarta Online Encyclopedia 2008: http://encarta.msn.com
Wikipedia. (2009, Feb 22). Christopher Columbus. Retrieved Feb 23, 2009, from
Zinn, H. (2007). Christopher Columbus. Retrieved Feb 23, 2009, from Third World
Traveler: http://www.third world t raveler.com/Zinn/Columbus_PeoplesHx.html