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How to Understand the Controversy about the Columbus Day Holiday

Celebrated on the second Monday in October, Columbus Day has been observed since 1792. While celebrating Italian explorer Christopher Columbus's 1492 landing in the New World, learn why this holiday has always generated debate.


  • Step 1: Learn biographical facts Learn biographical facts about Christopher Columbus. On his first voyage in 1492, he landed in the Bahamas and wrote in his journal that he seized 6 of the natives to serve as slaves.
  • Step 2: Understand his contribution to slavery Understand that Columbus, in an era of growing international slavery, sent thousands of the peaceful, indigenous Taino people from the island of Hispanola to Spain to be sold into slavery.
  • TIP: Be aware that when Columbus landed about 250,000 Taino lived on Hispanola, but 60 years later only a few hundred Taino remained on the island.
  • Step 3: Realize he was a brutal ruler Realize that Spanish historians discovered documents in 2005 that revealed that as governor of the Indies, Columbus had many natives killed and tortured to deter native unrest. After settlers lobbied against him, Columbus eventually lost his governorship and much of his former acclaim.
  • Step 4: Know the devastation disease brought Know that in addition to enslavement and violent governing, Columbus's arrival -- with plants, animals, and goods -- introduced new diseases that would devastate native populations throughout the New World.
  • Step 5: Be aware of religious context Be aware that many have rejected the holiday due to its close association with Catholicism. Columbus Day became a national holiday largely due to lobbying by the influential Catholic fraternal organization, the Knights of Columbus.
  • FACT: In 1990, South Dakota legally changed the name of Columbus Day to Native Americans' Day to celebrate the great Native Americans from its state.

You Will Need

  • Biographical information
  • Cultural ramifications
  • Religious context

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