Columbus gets an axe to the head in Detroit

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It would appear, based on the above photo, which was posted to Reddit this morning, that Christopher Columbus no longer garners the same kind of respect in Detroit that he once did… Yes, the bust of Christopher Columbus, which is located at Jefferson Avenue and Randolph Street, just outside of the Renaissance Center, apparently got some kind of axe or tomahawk to the head last night, on the eve of Columbus Day… This, for what it’s worth, doesn’t surprise me in the least. Historians have known for the past several generations the kind of man that Columbus was, and how he and his crew treated the native people they encountered here, in the so-called New World. I mean, it’s right there in his ship’s log, in his one words. The only thing that surprises me is the fact that it took this long for the Columbus narrative to change in popular culture. But I guess it’s not easy to change a story that’s been told to school kids a certain way since the birth of our country.

Speaking of the log entries left behind by Columbus, here’s an old favorite.

“They… brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks’ bells.They willingly traded everything they owned… They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane… They would make fine servants… With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”

But it takes a long time for American history to catch up to the facts, especially when the history in question is so central to our nation’s mythology. And we… especially white, American men… love the myth of the fearless explorer, risking his life to go where no “civilized” man had gone before. It makes us feel good about ourselves, like we’ve somehow inherited this legacy of entrepreneurial fearlessness, this innate ability to enforce our will on the world around us. It’s why we like the libertarian fairytales of Ayn Rand, and presidential candidates like Donald Trump. They make us feel like, even if we didn’t amount to much in this life, that we could have, if only the circumstances had been different.

[note: According to the Detroit Metro Times, the above bust of Columbus was “created by Italian sculptor Augusto Rivalta and dedicated to the city of Detroit on Oct. 12, 1910.”]

But, slowly, over time, the truth comes out. It almost always does.

Back when I was a kid, as least as far as I remember, we were still taught in class that Columbus was a brave explorer to whom we owed our very existence. And I don’t think I really thought anything different about Columbus until I read Kurt Vonnegut’s novel Breakfast of Champions. Here’s how Vonnegut summed up Columbus’s “founding” of North America.

1492. As children we were taught to memorize this year with pride and joy as the year people began living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America. Actually, people had been living full and imaginative lives on the continent of North America for hundreds of years before that. 1492 was simply the year sea pirates began to rob, cheat, and kill them.

And that’s the narrative that’s now beginning to take hold in America, as more and more communities are choosing to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous People’s Day. [Traverse City just made the switch this year. And I believe Alpena may have as well.]

While Ypsi has yet to join the communities formally embracing Indigenous People’s Day, there was a celebration in downtown Ypsi yesterday where the subject was discussed, at least by a few attendees. As I was checking out Dia de la Raza 2015 with my daughter, I heard two different people, in separate conversations, asking if our City Council had formally renounced Columbus Day. While I don’t believe there’s ever been a serious move to do so, my sense is that the people of Ypsi would welcome it.

Here are a few photos from Dia de la Raza 2015. The piñata, which I’m told was made by kids, is supposed to represent Donald Trump, who, not too long ago, said that a majority of Mexicans crossing over into America are rapists and drug dealers.



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  1. Lynne
    Posted October 12, 2015 at 7:47 pm | Permalink

    I read on Facebook that our mayor is planning on asking council to change it so Ypsi formally recognizes the day as Indigenous People’s Day. I think that is a fine idea,

    I wish they could leave that statue like that.

  2. Posted October 12, 2015 at 7:54 pm | Permalink

    Cool. I hadn’t heard that. Thanks for the update, Lynne.

  3. Posted October 12, 2015 at 8:00 pm | Permalink

    We used to do the jump rope song: “Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue, in 1492, the waves got higher and higher and over his head.” I have since made my own song: “Christopher Columbus was a giant prick, he gave STDs using his green dick, he is an asshole, an asshole and let’s punch his head!”

    I think that could go places.

  4. Posted October 12, 2015 at 8:40 pm | Permalink

    You’ve got a year to put it to music, Patti.

  5. Alice W.
    Posted October 13, 2015 at 7:37 am | Permalink

    I wonder how history may have changed if the real Columbus had gotten a tomahawk to the head?

  6. The Whole Truth
    Posted October 13, 2015 at 9:19 am | Permalink

    According to this person, Columbus is only guilty of bringing Christianity to the “blood-thirsty Indians”:

    Those who criticize Columbus for destroying, in their words, the precious culture of the American Indians, ignore the grim facts of pre-Columbian American history.

    A fair example is the Aztec civilization in Mexico. Seemingly advanced in other ways, the Aztec religion sank to some of the worst excesses of superstition. It is so extreme as to be almost incomprehensible to us who are familiar with the barbarous atrocities of the concentration camp and nuclear war.

    The Aztec religion sprang from a compulsive instinct to attract those natural forces which were beneficial to man and repel those which were malign. Most of these forces, such as the sun, rain, wind and fire, were personified as gods and goddesses, and idols of these deities were worshipped in the massive pyramidal temples.

    The Aztecs felt under a compelling duty to offer human sacrifices to these gods. It was either in atonement for some physical calamity, such as pestilence or earthquake, or to forestall an expected misfortune. The Aztecs felt driven to supply the gods with a regular “nourishment” of human blood for fear that a deity, like the sun, might no longer appear on the eastern horizon.

    The victims of these sacrifices were most frequently slaves or prisoners of war. Tearing out the hearts of living victims by black-robed, long-haired, chanting priests was a relatively merciful death compared to being scourged or eaten alive. The killings were on a large scale and would reach thousands on a single day, as failure to influence the gods became a frenzy of slaughter.

    Among other historic sources, we have record of what happened at the inauguration, in 1487, of the temple of Huitzilopochtli (Wheatzilopochtly), the god of war and of the sun. At the ceremony, some 20,000 human beings were sacrificed on the temple altars at the command of the Aztec Emperor, Auitzotl, to appease the monstrous deity.

    When, then, we are told that Columbus destroyed the meek and peace-loving Indian culture, Columbus brought Christianity to the blood-thirsty Indians. Millions embraced the religion of Jesus Christ before the end of the 16th century and became, like the converted Aztec Juan Diego, models of humility and charity.

  7. City Council
    Posted October 19, 2015 at 7:34 am | Permalink

    Tomorrow night, the Ypsilanti City Council will consider changing Columbus Day To Indigenous Peoples Day in Ypsilanti. Here’s the proposal.

    Resolution No. 2015-234
    October 20, 2015

    WHEREAS the City of Ypsilanti recognizes that Indigenous peoples, including from the Odawa, Ojibwe, Potowatomi, and Wyandot tribes, lived upon the land and along the Huron River in our community for many hundreds of years before our city’s founding; and

    WHEREAS the City of Ypsilanti recognizes that dislocation, disease, war, disenfranchisement, and other atrocities devastated these communities at different times, causing most Indigenous peoples to be expelled from their homes in this area by the 1830s; and

    WHEREAS the City of Ypsilanti understands that in order to help close the equity gap, government entities, organizations and other public institutions should change their policies and practices to better reflect experiences of Native American people and uplift our country’s Indigenous roots, history, and contributions; and

    WHEREAS the idea of Indigenous Peoples Day was first proposed in 1977 by a delegation of Native nations to the United Nations – sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas; and

    WHEREAS in 1990 representatives from 120 Indigenous Nations at the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance unanimously passed a resolution to transform Columbus Day into an opportunity to educate the rest of the country about pre-existing Indigenous cultures that have survived an often violent colonization process and continue to exist and thrive in present day America; and

    WHEREAS the Seattle City Council on October 6, 2014, followed the lead of municipalities including the City of Berkeley, California and the City of Minneapolis, Minnesota, and now including many more cities around the country; and

    WHEREAS in Michigan, Traverse City and Alpena have both voted to rename Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples Day to honor the culture, heritage and contributions of Native Americans; and

    WHEREAS the Tribal Council of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians has passed a Resolution (1) officially recognizing the Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October, and (2) that Indigenous Peoples Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of indigenous peoples on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that of Odawa, Ojibwe, Potwatomi, and other indigenous peoples add to communities throughout our Great Lakes

    NOW, THEREFORE, BE IT RESOLVED by the City Council that the City of Ypsilanti shall, instead of recognizing Columbus Day, instead recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday of October; and

    FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that Indigenous Peoples Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that that Odaawa, Ojibwe, and other Indigenous nations add to our region; and

    FURTHER BE IT RESOLVED that Indigenous Peoples Day shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that that Odawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and other indigenous peoples add to communities throughout Michigan and our Great Lakes states.

    FURTHER, the City of Ypsilanti encourages other businesses, organizations and public entities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day.

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