Columbus Day, the official celebration of America’s founding genocide, is based upon a falsified historical narrative drilled into every American schoolkid[1-3]. Ward Churchill’s portrait of the 16th century explorer is far more consistent with the historical reality:
Columbus did not sally forth upon the Atlantic for reasons of “neutral science” or altruism. He went, as his own diaries, reports, and letters make clear, fully expecting to encounter wealth belonging to others. It was his stated purpose to seize this wealth, by whatever means necessary and available, in order to enrich both his sponsors and himself. Plainly, he pre-figured, both in design and by intent, what came next. To this extent, he not only symbolizes the process of conquest and genocide which eventually consumed the indigenous peoples of America, but bears the personal responsibility of having participated in it…Plainly, the Nazi-esque dynamics set in motion by Columbus in 1492 continued, and were not ultimately consummated until the present century.
Columbus: “these people are very simple in war-like matters…I could conquer the whole of them with fifty men, and govern them as I pleased”
Columbus did not discover America: the Vikings, and perhaps other trading peoples, had reached the hemisphere long before him. Moreover, it was the Caribbean basin that Columbus reached. He never set foot in North America.
National mythology aside, the moment Columbus’ men sighted those floating branches/sticks on the water and that innocuous flock of birds, the awful human and cultural fate of an entire hemisphere – and eventually much of the world – was sealed.
Following his return to Spain, the Crown sent Columbus out on a second voyage the following year, this time with a 1200-strong invasion force of seventeen ships[1-4]. Savagery ensued: Columbus would chop off the heads or ears of whoever refused to dig gold for him. For stealing corn, one man had his nose and ears sliced off and was slave-auctioned. For suggesting Columbus was a bastard, a woman was stripped and paraded and had her tongue cut out.
The Spanish colonists would pillage, enslave and rape. One joked of having beaten and raped a Caribbean sex slave he bought from Columbus who, as revealed in a 1500 letter, sold 9+ year old sex slaves. A likely 10,000 14+ year olds bled to death after having their hands cut off for refusing to pay Columbus a hawk’s bell of gold dust (or twelve pounds of spun cotton) every three months. In short, life in his colony was “horrifying”*.
A Hemispheric Holocaust
By 1542, just 200 remained on the island of Hispaniola, a population decline of 99.67-99.99% within the span of half a century. This became the model for the entire hemisphere: according to the Smithsonian Institution, 65 million indigenous inhabitants perished in the three centuries between 1492 and 1800.
Scholars attribute 75-90% of these deaths to diseases the Europeans brought with them – from bubonic plague to measles to (most lethally) smallpox to countless more – from which the native peoples had no immunities. The invaders pushed on despite this obvious cause-and-effect “we come, they die” (Churchill) phenomena, gleefully attributing it to divine providence[10-11]. Thus concludes one author:
The destruction of the Indians of the Americas was, far and away, the most massive act of genocide in the history of the world. That is why, as one historian aptly has said, far from the heroic and romantic heraldry that customarily is used to symbolize the European settlement of the Americas, the emblem most congruent with reality would be a pyramid of skulls.
Native Americans had no immunities to European diseases
The remainder 10-25% were killed by massacre, castration, torture, starvation and slave labour. This alone amounted to 440-1,099 homicides per week, or 1,759-4397 per month, for 308 years straight. In 1890, the US government reported just 2.5% of indigenous North Americans remaining and only 2.5% of their land remaining in their name, perfectly illustrating the inseparable nature of the colonization process of indigenous extermination (the means) and land appropriation(the end).
Despite the abundance of US army massacres (not least of which was the Sand Creek bloodbath where delirious troops danced around in their defenceless victims’ severed scalps, genitalia and fetuses), a huge chunk of this 10-25% was inflicted by civilian miners and settlers. The entire native populations of Texas (then the densest in North America) and northern California, for example, were virtually wiped out by the scalp bounty trade alone. With varying rates for Indian men, women and children (incl. fetuses), pregnant women were naturally a favourite target).
From the 1511 revolt to the 1800s resistance of Geronimo, Indians have always fought back. The initial attempt to conquer North America was called off after Ponce de Leon was fatally wounded trying to take on the stiff-necked Calusa during a mere skirmish. Paraguay’s Guaycuru resisted too. Enriquillo is still remembered in the Dominican Republic and Haiti today as a resistance hero for his 1519-33 guerrilla war.
1973 saw a tense 71-day standoff between the FBI and the recently founded American Indian Movement, following the latter’s armed siege of Wounded Knee – site of the horrific US army massacre – on Pine Ridge reservation. This event became the turning point for an ongoing resurgence of indigenous activism, ranging from issues of treaty rights and sovereignty to land recovery and environment/ecology.
AIM leader Russell Means (-2012) speaking before the US Senate in 1989
Perhaps the biggest flashpoint since is the attempt by a US energy conglomerate to build a pipeline that would traverse native land and threatens the local and sacred water supply. The National Guard, together with SWAT teams and a private security company hired by the energy consortium, deployed rubber bullets, pepper spray and tear gas against hundreds of protesters. Sophia Wilansky, one of many non-natives who had joined the camp in solidarity, was killed by a police grenade.
With pressure from his liberal constituents (incl. longtime pro-native actor Robert Redford and his video appeal in solidarity), a legacy-conscious Obama cynically postponed the pipeline’s construction during his final days in office, leaving its resumption up to his successor Donald Trump, himself financially linked to the pipeline’s consortium and whose advisors are eyeing oil-rich Indian land for outright privatization.
As far as Native Americans are concerned, their genocide never ended. The rough third (700,000) still living on reservations endure Third World conditions, suffering the country’s highest rates of poverty, unemployment, death, suicide, infant mortality, substance abuse and disease.
Churchill explains the apparent paradox between native poverty and resources:
It’s not that reservation resources are not being exploited, or profits accrued. To the contrary…the BIA has utilized its plenary and trust capacities to negotiate contracts with major mining corporations “in behalf of” its “Indian wards” which pay pennies on the dollar of the conventional mineral royalty rates. Further, the BIA has typically exempted such corporations from an obligation to perform basic environmental cleanup of nuclear and other forms of waste.
While President Trump enacts multi-trillion-dollar corporate tax breaks and commits tens of billions to the Saudi destruction of Yemen, the Indian Health Service lacks 50% of the staff and funding required for adequate provision. A 2004 study found 40% of natives with mental disorders untreated, correlating with a reported 40% deficit between the number of mental health professionals available per native and those per non-native.
42% of native women of childbearing age were involuntarily sterilized during the decades following WWII as part of a government-funded program driven by racist eugenics and long-term mining interests. A direct violation of the Genocide Convention, the program almost halved the women’s fertility rate.
The left’s lack of interest in native American history and ongoing activism is rooted in an ignorance it shares with mainstream opinion, namely of the fact that the genocide – albeit not taking the holocaustal form it took when 97.5% of the population inhabited North America, namely because they’re no longer there – is ongoing and has never stopped.
But what the left must realise further is that the decolonization of North America is a vital prerequisite for the dismantlement of America’s overseas empire. Churchill’s argument to this effect is just as valid now as it was when he wrote the following in 1983, Trumpism being the present-day parallel to the 80s “New Right”:
…if the treaty obligations of the United States to the various tribes which are on the books right now were met, the landbase of the 48 contiguous states would be diminished by approximately one third. Further, identified U.S. energy resource reserves would be reduced by two thirds. Significant reserves of minerals including gold, silver, iron, molybdenum, magnesium, bauxite and sulphur would also pass from U.S. control. Any hard-nosed Marxist revolutionary should be able to detect the absolutely critical nature of the issues. By any definition, the mere potential for even a partial dissolution of the U.S. landbase should be a high priority consideration for anyone interested in destabilizing the status quo.
…If the liberation struggles of Native America are defeated while the left stands idly by debating “correct lines” and “social priorities,”, a crucial opportunity to draw a line on the capitalist process in America will have been lost, perhaps forever. In the view of the emergence of outright American neo-fascism – as represented by the “New Right” and “Moral Majority” – none of us can afford to pass such opportunities by, least of all on points of polemical pride.
…Bill Tabb has said, “Let the debate continue.” I would only add, “and let the action begin.”
1. https://www.jacobinmag.com/2014/10/the-real-christopher-columbus/ (an excerpt from Howard Zinn, A People’s History of the United States (Harper Perennial 2015 Reissue), Chapter 1); to listen to chapters 1-25, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MCHuPpyoyBQ&list=PLYUr4j9fnsUzHJA6iP-0x0vPdDzskPWiU; to hear Zinn speak about the book, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EI907Tm11sc
2. Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz, An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States (Beacon Press 2015 Reprint); for a lecture delivered by Ortiz at The Evergreen State College, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eLl561BBkdI
3. Kirkpatrick Sale, Christopher Columbus and the Conquest of Paradise 2nd ed. (Tauris Parke Paperbacks 2006); for a fascinating discussion ft. Sale, see https://archive.org/details/AV_481-COLUMBUS_THE_MAN_THE_LEGACY
4. http://www.mit.edu/~thistle/v0/9.11/1columbus.html; also see https://www.vox.com/2014/10/13/6957875/christopher-columbus-murderer-tyrant-scoundrel; for a fascinating discussion ft. Churchill, see https://archive.org/details/AV_481-COLUMBUS_THE_MAN_THE_LEGACY
5. For the record of US interventionism since 1945, see williamblum.org
6. J.W. Loewen, Lies My Teacher Told Me: Everything Your American History Textbook Got Wrong (The New Press 2008), page 52; Jacques Nicolas Leger, Haiti, Her History and Her Detractors (Neale Publishing Company 1907), page 23; https://web.archive.org/web/20081202053219/http://www.kacike.org/LynneGuitar.html; http://www.raceandhistory.com/Taino/Women.htm; Kathryn A. Sloan, Women’s Roles in Latin America and the Caribbean (Greenwood 2011); https://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/07/books.spain
7. https://archive.org/stream/christophercolu02thacgoog#page/n451/mode/2up; for the original passage in Early Modern Spanish, see note 443
8. https://web.archive.org/web/20131216024311/http://www.usnews.com/usnews/news/articles/070121/29jamestown.b.htm; for census summaries, see Lewis Hank, The Spanish Conquest of America (University of Pennsylvania Press: Philadelphia 1947), page 200ff; also see Salvador de Madariaga, The Rise of the Spanish American Empire (Hollis nd Carter Publishers: London 1947); the range estimated by historians centering on 500,000-8,000,000; see Suzanne Austin Alchon, A pest in the land: New world epidemics in a global perspective (Albuquerque: University of New Mexico Press 2003), pages 164-7
11. http://www.skeptic.ca/American_Holocaust.htm; listen to chapters 1-6 at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9Q4NyuImKMk&list=PLAYJ1WwgOpjZZD5TNNC3X8bnFDclAQMCe; for a lecture with Q/A delivered by the author, see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Qra6pcn4AOE.
12. Ward Churchill, A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present (City Light Books 2001)
13. Eliza Barclay, “Navajos Fight Their Food Desert With Junk Food And Soda Taxes”, National Public Radio 01.04.15
16. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uNsAK7jS0WY; https://www.tandfonline.com/doi/figure/10.1080/2201473X.2014.955947?scroll=top&needAccess=true
17. Jane Lawrence, “The Sterilization of Native American Women”, American Indian Quarterly 24:3:402
18. https://archive.org/stream/MarxismAndNativeAmericans, pages 201-3; for a sample of native activist causes at the time of publication, see page 200
*I have spared the reader the worst allegations of Spanish depravities on Hispaniola, made by self-purported eyewitness Bartolome Das Lacas.