When I was a kid, I was taught that in 1492, Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America. Then the Pilgrims came, the Indians welcomed them with open arms and they all lived happily ever after.
That’s not quite how it went though, is it? They left out the part where the “Indians” had already settled across large swaths of what would become the United States. There were several sizable nations with fully developed and rich cultures. The European settlers came and took most of it away. They even purportedly used a primitive form of biological warfare by giving the “Indians” blankets infected with smallpox and that was after the Europeans had already inadvertently wiped out millions of them with disease.
Does it count as “discovering” a continent if it’s already inhabited? Not really. This is not to belittle Columbus’ achievement, he did expand our knowledge of the world…or rather, he put together two very large pieces of the primitive puzzle that passed for a map of the world at the time. However, this is cold comfort to the Native Americans that were driven to near extinction by a concerted effort on the part of the United States government. The atrocities are many and I shan’t bother to list them here (Google it if you want to depress yourself). Many Native American nations were wiped out and others struggle to this day to maintain a coherent culture in the face of a continued onslaught of McDonald’s and MTV.
Even today, Native Americans are still the victims of deep rooted racism as the GOP blocks efforts to help Native American women that are the victims of abuse. I can understand (but violently disagree with) why the GOP would not want the Violence Against Women Act not to help lesbians (grrr…homosexuality is bad!) or undocumented immigrants (grrr… “illegals” are bad!) but Native American women? Grrr…”Indians” are bad! They are? Since when? Oh wait, they’re not white, are they? There really isn’t any other reason that stands up to scrutiny. It’s just more racism from the kind of people that happily slaughtered thousands of “injuns” so they could take their land.
Of all the loathsome justifications for violence, “Manifest Destiny” was among the worst. Slightly better than the Holocaust only in that the goal wasn’t to kill them all, just get them out of the way. Think about that when your child comes home singing “In 14 hundred and 92, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.” Ask them if they learned the entire story of what happened to the Native Americans. It may not make for a joyous holiday, but the truth is always better than the comforting lie.