Were indigenous peoples any less barbaric?
Citing Italian explorer Christopher Columbus’ abuse of Native American tribes, the Los Angeles City Council voted on August 30, nearly unanimously, to end the city’s celebration of Columbus Day, traditionally held the second Monday in October. The holiday will be replaced with Indigenous Peoples Day, which will commemorate “indigenous, aboriginal and native people” of North America.
The move to eliminate Columbus Day was called “restorative justice” by one city councilman. Chrissie Castro of the Los Angeles City-County Native American Indian Commission argued before the vote was handed down ending all celebrations of Columbus would help to “dismantle a state-sponsored celebration of genocide of indigenous peoples.”
While Columbus’ connection to the murder, destruction, and enslavement of some Native American groups is unquestionably immoral and unworthy of being celebrated, the decision to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day is more than a little ironic and another example of the rampant historical revisionism that has infected those who wish to erase those parts of American history they deem unworthy of being remembered.
Many of the indigenous people Los Angeles will now celebrate engaged in truly horrifying atrocities of their own. For instance, it is well known Mesoamerican tribes regularly practiced human sacrifice. As Richard Overy’s Times Complete History of the World notes, European sources recorded the Aztecs made between 10,000 and 80,000 sacrifices in 1487 as a part of their dedication to the primary temple in Tenochtitlan. Many of the sacrifices involved ritualistic torture and abuse, including cutting the hearts out of live victims.
Many Native American tribes practiced slavery and held racist views of other tribes. Following wars, enslaved people who were lucky enough not to be sacrificed would often be forced to engage in small-scale labor. Some tribes would mutilate their slaves to keep them from escaping. Indigenous peoples throughout North America also engaged in brutal war tactics and infanticide, the murder of innocent children.
Additionally, Native American groups committed many unjustifiable attacks on American colonists. In March 1622, Powhatan warriors traveled to multiple colonial settlements in Virginia under the guise of wanting to engage in peace and trade. Once settlers opened their communities to the Powhatan, they were murdered in one of the bloodiest events in early colonial history. Roughly one-third of all Virginia colonists were killed in a single day.
Human sacrifice, slavery, racism, and the murder of innocent children — hardly sounds like a group worth celebrating by modern standards. And yet these are precisely the groups the Los Angeles City Council have determined to be worthy of recognition.
There’s no excuse for the tremendous horrors inflicted on Native American tribes by some European settlers, just as there is no excuse for the numerous crimes against humanity committed by many of these same Native Americans against each other and against many innocent, peaceful colonists.
For some, that means these people should be relegated to the dustbin of history, forever labeled as unworthy of honor or respect. But such a view is shortsighted, foolish, and applied in a wildly inconsistent manner. There was no outrage, for instance, when Hillary Clinton accepted the Margaret Sanger Award in 2009, an “honor” named after a noted racist and proponent of eugenics.
Rather than ignore the flawed people of the past who have helped to shape America, we should celebrate their achievements while learning from their mistakes — always remembering the road to true progress is paved with humility. The only other consistently applied alternative would be to scrub from the public arena any mention of anyone who didn’t live up to our modern standards, which, by the way, is just about everyone. And in the end, that might be what those behind this movement truly want: the complete destruction of the grand achievements of the Western world.