Christopher Columbus means nothing to North Dakota, nothing to the northern Red River Valley and nothing to Grand Forks.
And since misconceptions and historical inaccuracies abound regarding the Italian explorer who supposedly discovered America, Columbus has become a controversial figure as contemporary minds evolve and dedicate critical examination into his role as an American hero.
The Grand Forks City Council soon will decide whether to continue recognizing Columbus Day in honor of Columbus’ arrival in the Americas in 1492. In a discussion earlier this week, the council appeared set to move away from celebrating Columbus Day and instead mark the day with Indigenous Peoples Day.
The outcome officially will be determined during Monday’s regular meeting of the City Council.
Columbus is no hero to American Indians, who mark his arrival as the beginning of centuries of genocide against the millions of people who already lived in the Americas before Europeans arrived. And upon further examination of the “discoverer” of America, today’s historians are learning that Columbus exploited and enslaved indigenous people.
Meanwhile, numerous other states, cities and entities are doing an about-face on Columbus Day. South Dakota was the first, doing so in association with the 1990 “Year of Reconciliation” proclaimed by then-Gov. George S. Mickelson. Since then, South Dakota celebrates Native American Day in lieu of Columbus Day.
Other states have followed, including Minnesota. Today, more than 120 cities, three counties, nine universities and seven states have proclaimed some form of day to honor American Indians.
Grand Forks can be – should be – next.
“We cannot change history’s mistakes and misfortune. This is not an attempt to weaken the history most of us were taught in grade school,” Courtney Davis Souvannasacd, a member of the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians, said earlier this week. “This is an opportunity to strengthen histories most of us were taught in grade schools. This is an opportunity to strengthen histories and accurately portray all perspectives, to include narratives of the indigenous people who are here and are still here.”
A wave of better understanding is spreading throughout the United States. In the South, aged statues of Confederate leaders – racist traitors whose insurrection led to hundreds of thousands of American deaths – are rightfully being torn down. Confederate battle flags rightfully are being removed from public places. Americans rightfully are gaining a better understanding of the insinuations and cultural implications of what we honor, what we display and what we celebrate.
This has nothing to do with reducing the place of Italian Americans in United States culture. But remember that Columbus never set foot in what today is the United States. Honoring Columbus – again, a man who enslaved the people he found living in the Americas – with a national holiday is simply inappropriate.
Meanwhile, American Indians are our neighbors, fellow residents and friends.
So yes, Grand Forks should discontinue the practice of honoring Christopher Columbus and replace it with Indigenous Peoples Day. We hope for a unanimous vote of approval when the council considers it Monday.