Who is responsible for the genocide of The Taino?
Should Columbus Day be celebrated in The United States of America?
Everyone thinks they know about Columbus — we even had a day off from school about a month ago to celebrate his life and work. And while we acknowledge Christopher Columbus, the navigator and explorer, we can not ignore Christopher Columbus, the slave trader and terrorist.
Our focus is also on The Taino, the indigenous people who once populated the Caribbean, and whose textbook history has been rendered invisible. After analyzing journals, timelines, and other documents, we formed groups to examine the shared responsibility of the annihilation of a once thriving people. Columbus, Columbus’s men, King Ferdinand & Queen Isabella of Spain, The System of Empire, and even The Taino, themselves, were all indicted in our Humanities Court of Law.
In each group, we created a written document that detailed the Context, Defense, Accusation, and Conclusion based on the indictments. On Day One of the trial, each group presented their CONTEXT and DEFENSE. Everyone in the class took notes and we asked clarifying questions about the CONTEXT and DEFENSE only. After each group presented, there was time for crossfire questioning between groups.
On Day Two, each group presented their ACCUSATION and CONCLUSION, with additional questions again when all groups were finished.
Some other information of note is that this trial proceeded without the use of prosecutors. Each group’s defense relied solely on their own statements. We also proceeded without a jury due to the remote nature of the trial this year. Students were responsible for creating their own characterizations for their roles, including costumes and props. They were encouraged to empty out closets and junk drawers at home, not Amazon Prime! Special thanks goes to Xhenete Osmani for capturing screen shots of our trial!
So, it is vital to reconsider Christopher Columbus’s contributions and iconic status. It is important to challenge traditional thinking, especially when we are faced with irrefutable proof that the tradition in question must end. When we ask, who is responsible? The answer is that we must unravel unpleasant truths in our own American Mythologies. We must examine our belief systems, traditions, and “own” and correct the injustices of the past. And what should be done about Columbus Day? Some states and cities in our Union have taken upon themselves to re-name the day to reflect remembrance of indigenous peoples. Others, (like our own New York) continue to celebrate Christopher Columbus, although they are often met with protest. Recognition and admission of past wrongs are the only way we will move forward as a society towards the peace that should be a right for all and never a privilege just for some.