Rutgers scholar Camilla Townsend offered her opinion on the nationwide debate over whether Columbus Day should be abolished and statues of Christopher Columbus removed.
“Abolishing Columbus Day will not change what happened. But we should add an Indigenous Peoples’ Day and encourage schools to take it seriously, as Canada has done. Many students graduate high school thinking that perhaps they shouldn’t celebrate Columbus without knowing exactly why, and still knowing next to nothing about indigenous peoples’ history. Helping them learn that history might yield better results than abolishing a holiday,” Dr. Townsend said.
Regarding debates about whether public statues of Columbus should be removed, she said, “With the exception of secessionist civil war leaders who were traitors to the nation, I don’t believe statues should be taken down. Trying to erase history never works very well. But we should be adding plaques that explain the complexity of the issues and the pain engendered by celebrating only the powerful figures and not the less powerful. A better decision might be to instead commission sculptures of indigenous figures who were important to history but are often ignored.”
Dr. Townsend, a Distinguished Professor of history at Rutgers–New Brunswick, is an expert in indigenous history and the author of Annals of Native America: How the Nahuas of Colonial Mexico Kept Their History.