In 1992, the 500th anniversary of Columbus’s so-called discovery of the Americas, celebrations were organized all across the United States and Europe. But not everyone was interested in extolling Columbus. For Native Indians, this was the time of mourning. They saw Columbus as the man who had brought cataclysm to the land of their ancestors.
To present their version of history, Pueblo Indians made a two-hour documentary called Surviving Columbus, which premiered in October 1992. I saw the documentary yesterday. The documentary begins from 1539, when the first band of Spanish invaders arrived in Pueblo territory. In the section on Spanish invasion, a speaker asks the audience what names the natives gave to the Spanish. The names are not discoverer or settler. It is fear and death.
The one-sided Eurocentric history tells us that Columbus discovered the Americas, that the Americas were the new world, and that Asia, Europe, and Africa were the old world. But Columbus didn’t discover the Americas for Native Indians. For the natives, their civilization was the old world, and the Europeans had come from a new world. The terms like “discoverer,” “new world,” and “old world” are a linguistic legacy of European Imperialism.
Then there are words like “wilderness” and “settlement” which create the impression that the Europeans arrived at an empty acreage. The Americas were not an empty acreage—this was the homeland for millions of natives. Their homeland was seized by the invaders.
“The cant of conquest”—this is the phrase that historian Francis Jennings has used to describe the European strategy of masking exploitative strategies with pious, self-serving terminology. (The work of Francis Jennings is not mentioned in the documentary.)
The European powers which ruled Pueblo Indians after 1539—Spain, Britain, and the USA—tried to subjugate the Indians militarily and religiously. The conquerors gave the conquered a choice: submit or die. After 1970, there has been some improvement in the policies of the United States. The legitimate rights and cultural aspirations of native communities are now being recognized. Despite impossible odds, Pueblo Indians have survived.
I recommend the Surviving Columbus documentary.