Columbus’ Conquest and Indigenous Archaeology

As a grade-school student, I learned very little about pre-Columbus history of the Americas. Even in AP US History, only one chapter out of 30 described the natives that lived undisrupted before European settlers moved in. The story in itself is completely one-sided. Though many Americans celebrate the day in remembrance of a great navigator, they remain unaware of the atrocities Columbus’ travels brought to the natives. By ignoring the other, negative side of what Columbus accomplished, the American celebration of this day legitimizes such a conquest. The importance of rewriting the story relates to the indigenous archaeological approach.

Indigenous archaeology uses the study of past human activity in a way different from older techniques. Focus is placed on deconstructing colonization frameworks and bringing cultures in the margin to the center. A key piece of this approach is to involve the culture being studied, thus giving agency back to the people while studying a culture in a fair, nonjudgmental way. The movie Unsettling Columbus Day attempts to study the national holiday from multiple perspectives. Though material culture is not necessarily addressed, the voices of Native Americans is brought forth to the center and discussed. A very effective part of the film also discussed the importance of the holiday to Italian immigrants, as Columbus himself was Italian. This holiday, for Italians, celebrates a Euro-American origin story, as Italian Americans were treated poorly, as well. The question then becomes, is there room for two minorities?

The indigenous archaeology approach is very suitable for such a question. Decolonizing the past does not necessarily mean replacing one majority group with another. Instead, balancing all the voices of the past and listening to many sides of a story. Due to the horrible actions committed by Columbus, many can relate his story to that of current terrorism. Others who celebrate the holiday do so with a sense of pride in America and Italian heritage. The issue lies not in celebrating the conquest of Native Americans, then. The name of the holiday itself implies that America condones what happened many years ago. Compromise must be made on what exactly is being celebrated and accepted by the American culture at large. It is of the utmost importance to keep in mind all sides of the story, as well as give power to those who deserve it the most. To construct a more equal future for all, rewriting the history is necessary.

-Kathryn Marshall

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