Happy Columbus Day! (Does anyone even say that anymore?)
With the holiday celebrating the discovery of America once again upon us, the usual litany of complaints is being heard. Liberals are trying to do away with the calendar event because of all the stories of Christopher Columbus and his men engaging in all manner of plundering, rape, murder and other colonial activities against the indigenous peoples of the new world. Of course, they’re mostly upset about a holiday celebrating yet another long-dead white guy. (Tell that to the first wave of Italian immigrants coming here, who were treated in a distinctly less favorable fashion.)
That’s not the only avenue of attack on dear old Chris, however. It’s long been pointed out that he wasn’t even the first person to discover North America. (Actually, he never set foot on the North American mainland. The closest he came was the Bahamas.) So with all that in mind, you might be feeling like retooling the holiday. Peter Roff at Newsweek has an interesting idea. Let’s rebrand the holiday as a celebration of the accomplishments made by immigrants to making the country what it is today. And by “immigrants” he means the early explorers who came here and reshaped the new world.
But that doesn’t solve the issue of Columbus not really “discovering” America, does it? Nope. So another group of people wants to rebrand the holiday entirely and make it Leif Erikson Day. (Time)
Others, however, will wait for Tuesday to celebrate something else: Leif Erikson Day, a celebration of the Viking explorer credited with reaching the continent around the year 1000, nearly 500 years before Columbus did.
But, while it may sound only fair to share the credit for exploration, the movement to recognize Erikson also has a dark back story, as Leif Erikson Day’s history is connected to nativist backlash against immigration to the United States. At one point, for some people, the debate over who really “discovered” America came down to one question: who was whiter?
Remember, kids. Everything comes down to racism sooner or later.
So Columbus wasn’t the first person to arrive in North America. But neither was Leif Erikson. There were already people here when both of them arrived. But that culture wasn’t representative of the people who actually discovered America. Those indigenous people had a culture which evolved over ages. As far as they knew, the gods placed them on that land.
If we’re going to have a holiday honoring true explorers who chalked up the actual “first” arrival of people here we’re going to have to dig a bit further back. Okay… a lot further back. For some time now we’ve had very compelling archeological evidence that the actual first human beings to set foot in the Americas arrived between thirty and forty thousand years ago. But more recently we began seeing hints that even those dates are way off. If one find on the west coast can be verified, there were human beings here killing mastodons as far back as 130,000 years ago.
When I was a young man, the generally held scientific consensus was that humans hadn’t even made it out of Sub-Saharan Africa by then. Funny how history keeps pushing us further and further back, isn’t it? But all of this science doesn’t solve our original problem. How do we honor these brave explorers who crossed the globe and became the first human beings to set foot on this continent? Not only don’t we know specifically who they were, but we don’t even know where they came from. We may be about to crack that puzzle, however. The DNA of the earliest Native American remains we’ve located suggests that those early arrivals probably came from Siberia.
Surprise! In the end, the whole thing was actually caused by the Russians. Somebody alert Robert Mueller.