Local historian explains controversy behind Christopher Columbus

The Columbus statue in Columbus was removed this June after local teenager Abigail Adams said the statue didn’t have a purpose.
Published: Oct. 12, 2020 at 10:41 PM CDT
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COLUMBUS, Wis. (WMTV) - Local historian explained Columbus Day overlooks history of violence and oppression of indigenous people, as Columbus statues topple across the country.

The Columbus statue in Columbus was removed this June after local teenager Abigail Adams said the statue didn’t have a purpose.

“It’s always kind of bothered me ever since we learned in school that Columbus is actual not a great person,” Adams said.

Adams started a petition in June to remove the statue, arguing it did not address any of Columbus' controversial history.

“The more I learn about native Americans over the years the more and more it upsets me that we still celebrate Columbus Day rather than learn about Indigenous people and learn about what actually happened, rather than the giant patriotic thing we’ve always been fed,” Adams said.

Ho-Chunk President Marlon White Eagle says removing the statue marks a step in the right direction. “Denouncing the treatment of Indigenous people and reaffirming the indigenous culture and the history that was here prior to any modern day country," White Eagle said.

White Eagle believes that Columbus Day only tells one side of the story and Indigenous people have “historically gone through quite a bit of history.”

Charles Cohen, a historian from University of Wisconsin- Madison, said Christopher Columbus represents more than landing in the Americas in 1492.

“He’s part of a large narrative of American history, but he’s also emblematic to the beginnings of the mistreatment of native peoples, the native slave trade,” Cohen said. “The usurpation of their lands, the deaths of their people, the destruction of their cultures.”

Cohen believes it is a dark part of history that is coming to light. He did say that Columbus Day should still be celebrated, but that we have to understand the consequences.

“I wouldn’t want to see him completely expunged from historical record, but I am in great sympathy with native peoples who want to say there are other sides to the story," Cohen said.

City leaders called on the community ideas for what should be done with the statue in August. Officials say it will have a new owner on Nov. 20.

Gov. Tony Evers issued an order one year ago to honor Indigenous tribes in Wisconsin, by essentially replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day.

Wisconsin is one of just 14 states that recognize Indigenous Peoples' Day.

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