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Christopher Columbus: Why wasn’t he the hero we learned in school



That rhyme has long been how American students were introduced to Christopher Columbus in elementary school.

Students learn that Columbus is the one who discovered America and sailed across the Atlantic in its three ships: Niña, Pinta and Santa Maria. The Italian explorer is even celebrated every October during a federal holiday named after him.

But the man credited with discovering the “new world” has long been considered a controversial figure in US history for his treatment of the indigenous communities he encountered and for his role in the violent colonization at their expense.

Dozens of cities and states – for example, Minnesota, Alaska, Vermont and Oregon ̵

1; have already replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day.

Now, in response to the nationwide protests and conversations about racial inequality, people have torn down statues of Columbus to raise awareness of the atrocities he brought to indigenous people.
Statues of Christopher Columbus are dismantled across the country

So what did Columbus really do and why is he labeled as a “tyrant” rather than the hero we were taught to believe?

“We should question why we as Americans continue to celebrate him without knowing the true story of his legacy, and why a vacation was created in the first place,” Dr. Leo Killsback, a citizen of the Northern Cheyenne Nation and assistant professor of American Indian Studies at Arizona State University, told CNN 2016.

He was not the first to discover America

There is no doubt that Columbus’s travel had “undeniable historical impact, leading to the great age of Atlantic exploration, trade and eventually colonization of Europeans,” according to historian David M. Perry, who wrote an op-ed for CNN about Columbus Day in 2015.
Not everything you learned about Christopher Columbus is true
But Columbus was not the first to discover the new world. The indigenous people had lived there for centuries when he arrived in 1492 and Leif Eriksson and the Vikings beat him to it five centuries earlier.

He enslaved the natives

During his travels through the Caribbean and the Central and South American coast, Columbus came across the indigenous people he labeled “Indians.”

Columbus and his men enslaved many of these indigenous people and treated them with extreme violence and brutality, according to History.com.

Throughout his years in America, the Columbus natives forced to work for profit. Later, he sent thousands of Taino Indians to Spain for sale, and many of them died during the trip. The natives who were not sold into slavery were forced to look for gold in mines and work on plantations.

While he was governor of the current Dominican Republic, Columbus killed many natives in response to their uprising, according to History.com. To prevent further rebellion, he would have the dead bodies paraded through the streets.

He brought new diseases with him

Indigenous communities in America “were decimated by exposure to old world diseases, crumbling under the weight of the epidemic,” Perry wrote in his CNN update.

The Taino population was not immune to diseases such as smallpox, measles and influenza, brought to their island of Hispaniola by Columbus and his men. In 1492, there were an estimated 250,000 indigenous people in Hispaniola, but in 1517, only 14,000 remained, according to the Oklahoma Medical Research Foundation.

Some historians believe that the effects of European and African settlers in the New World may have killed as much as 90% of the native population and were more deadly than the black deaths were in medieval Europe, OMRF said.


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