Montana Republicans Will Not Let You Slander Christopher Columbus Just Because It's True!

State/Local Politics
Montana Republicans Will Not Let You Slander Christopher Columbus Just Because It's True!

For the fourth time in six years, a bill seeking to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day in Montana has failed. Although not one community member spoke in opposition to the bill or made any compelling case for why they should keep Columbus Day, the state Senate voted it down 33-17.

Sen. Daniel Emrich (R-Great Falls) explained that he voted against this because he does not like "erasing history," while several others say they voted against it because the bill's sponsor, Sen. Shane Morigeau (D-Missoula), insisted upon talking about history they didn't want to know about and would prefer to see erased. (Emrich just had his own education-related bill shot down in the state Senate this week; it would have banned the teaching of scientific "theories" because "theories aren't facts." Yes, Emrich was homeschooled.)

“[Morigeau] starts off with accusing Columbus of rape, beheading, amputations … I have never in my experience been so mad,” Sen. Dan Salomon (R-Ronan) told The Missoulian. “This was a classic, and I do mean classic, case of a bill sponsor killing his own bill. I voted to table it, and I’m not voting to bring it back.”

This raises the question "Then why did Sen. Dan Salomon think anyone was trying to replace Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day to begin with?" It's difficult to see how such a move would make all that much sense without the necessary context of "rape, beheading, amputations," as this is the whole entire point of opposition to Columbus Day. This is not based on something Sen. Morigeau made up, but on the testimonies, letters, and diaries of Columbus's contemporaries, not only from critics like Francisco de Bobadilla and Spanish priest Bartoleme de la Casas, but from those who admired him and thought it was really swell of him to give them a woman to rape. Then there were Columbus's very own letters. Including one in which he discussed selling little girls into sexual slavery.

A hundred castellanos are as easily obtained for a woman as for a farm, and it is very general, and there are plenty of dealers who go about looking for girls: those from nine to ten are now in demand, and for all ages a good price must be paid. — Christopher Columbus in a letter to Doña Juana de la Torre

There are so many accounts of this that it would be absurd at this point to suggest that they were all made up just to ruin the day of Nice White Conservatives Who Love America.

Salomon's sentiment was shared by Sen. John Fuller (R-Kalispell), who said, “In the context of history, Christopher Columbus is one of the most important individuals in western civilization.”

Well, one could certainly say the same thing about Hitler, but we don't have holidays commemorating him, do we? It sure is interesting that these people who are so worried about "erasing history" by getting rid of holidays and statues are so very upset by actually learning history.

“I just don’t know how talking about history can make people upset,” Sen Morigeau said. “This is factual information. If that makes people so uneasy, then why are we celebrating this holiday, if they can’t even stomach conversations about [Columbus]?”

Because they're not actually worried about erasing history, they're worried about erasing symbolism. They like what they feel the Fake Christopher Columbus symbolizes and they don't want Real Christopher Columbus to interfere with that. They are attached to that propaganda because it makes them feel good and proud of being Americans.

Columbus Day was propaganda to begin with — well-intentioned propaganda, but propaganda nonetheless.

The whole reason Columbus Day exists in the first place is because Italian American groups (who did not know the actual history) like the Knights of Columbus lobbied for it, largely because they thought it would lead to Americans of Northern European descent accepting them as Americans and perhaps being less horrible to them. It became a national holiday in 1937, though it clearly did not work — particularly in Montana, where in 1941, 1200 Italians were imprisoned at the Fort Missoula internment camp.

The state might want to apologize for that before they worry too much about Christopher Columbus, I say. (Yes, it was a federal thing, but other states have apologized, so ...)

There are only 10,000 people of Italian descent in Montana today and 78,000 indigenous people. This is not to say it would matter if those numbers were reversed, but at least there would be some understanding of where the pushback was coming from. Though it's worth noting that Boston, which is home to many, many more people of Italian descent than is Montana (about 600,000 in the Boston Metropolitan area), has made the switch to Indigenous Peoples Day.

Morigeau told the press that Indigenous Peoples Day was actually for everyone, because everyone is indigenous to somewhere.

“People on the other side of the aisle see eliminating him ... as eliminating a white person’s holiday,” he said. “But we just want to be inclusive. We want this to represent everybody. I don’t know how much more clear we can be that this holiday is for everyone.”

He also worries that this sends a "chilling message" to Native youth. “It says our lives don’t matter,” he said. “Our lives aren’t equal. Our opinions aren’t valued.”

But ultimately it's worse than that. These people aren't even thinking about anyone's lives. They want to ignore those opinions, they want to ignore atrocities, they want to ignore historical fact, because historical fiction makes them feel good — and they prioritize their "feeling good" over everything.

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Robyn Pennacchia

Robyn Pennacchia is a brilliant, fabulously talented and visually stunning angel of a human being, who shrugged off what she is pretty sure would have been a Tony Award-winning career in musical theater in order to write about stuff on the internet. Follow her on Twitter at @RobynElyse


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