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Truth Commission debunks Columbus myths

Published Sep 12, 2007 11:35 PM

Colorado AIM and the Transform Columbus Day Alliance held a two-day Truth Commission in Denver on Sept. 8-9 as Colorado gears up for the 100th year since it began celebrating Columbus Day and as activists mobilized to oppose to the iconization of the slave trader and mass murderer.

Colorado held its first statewide celebration in 1907. The Transform Columbus Day Alliance has been protesting the holiday since 1989 and won a slight reprieve from further injury of Indigenous people through the celebration in 1992, some 500 years after Columbus led the European invasion of the Western Hemisphere.

However, the fete’s organizers have continued to rebuff a dialogue with community leaders. State officials have refused to step in and stop officially celebrating a man who was responsible for the deaths of 80 percent of the original inhabitants in the Caribbean—the Taíno people.

Even the most conservative estimates of the population of Indigenous people say that the Caribbean islands were inhabited by 8 million people before 1492, this according to Shelburne Cook and Woodrow Borah’s “Essays in Population History” Vol. I, Chapter VI. By the time Columbus left the Caribbean in 1500, due to his policies, which included setting up a slave system (encomienda), and to practices such as cutting off the hands of Taíno people who did not meet a quota of gold, the population had been decimated. (Transformcolumbusday.com)

‘Who can believe it?’

Even Bartolomé de Las Casas, who arrived with Columbus, wrote of the savagery in his “History of the Indies”: “There were 60,000 people living on this island [when I arrived], including the Indians; so that from 1494 to 1508, over 3 million people had perished from war, slavery and the mines. Who in future generations will believe this?”

The Truth Commission took testimony from many leaders in the Indigenous community. George E. (Tink) Tinker, an Indigenous professor at the Iliff School of Theology, testified about the actual population of the Caribbean and the long history of undercounting, so as to make colonization seem less brutal than it was. Mark Sanderfer gave the actual history of Christopher Columbus—who, before getting lost trying to find a new route to Asia, was a slave trader who brought West Africans to Portugal.

Portugal was the first European country to begin the kidnapping and murdering of West African people for the purpose of enslaving them.

Larry Hales of FIST testified about Christopher Columbus and his legacy’s impact on African people brought to the Americas. As the policies of Christopher Columbus led to the almost complete annihilation of the first people in the Caribbean, the colonizers then turned to the mass importation of African people to the Americas to provide slave labor.

According to the Web site africawithin.com, “The creation of the plantation system in the Americas and the Caribbean Islands set in motion a way of life for Europeans that they had not previously enjoyed. This way of life and the exploitation of the resources of the Americas and the Caribbean Islands, after the destruction of the nations and civilizations of the people referred to as ‘Indians,’ renewed the economic energy of Europe and gave Europeans the ability to move to the center stage of what they refer to as world progress.

“This was done mainly at the expense of African people, who are still not thoroughly aware of their impact on every aspect of world history. Education for a new reality in the African world must train African people to understand the nature of their contribution to the different aspects of world history, past and present, and the possibilities of their future contribution.”

Glenn Morris testified about the legacy of Columbus on Indigenous people and what it means today, as U.S. imperialism aggressively targets poor workers around the world for highly exploitable labor and to steal the resources underneath their feet.

Ultimately, Morris said, the Doctrine of Discovery is a thin veil for white supremacy. As European nations were competing with one another for riches, they were able to share in an ideology that exerted their superiority over darker people around the world. This doctrine was used to validate the mass murder of people for profit and the enslavement of them. It continues to do so today, said Morris, as there has never been a dialogue around the colonization of the Americas and slavery and how the U.S. was born into the world dripping with blood from head to toe.

The Truth Commission, just like the International Tribunal on Hurricanes Katrina/Rita, provided the true history of people. As the struggle to stop imperialist wars abroad and the war against the oppressed and workers in the U.S. intensifies, this truth becomes increasingly more important and provides the history that will inundate the lies of the oppressors.