Peter Hardeman Burnett, the Gold Rush governor of California, summed up the Anglo-American perspective when he said: "It is inevitable that the Indian must go."
By contrast, Columbus and the Spanish sought coexistence, however complicated that sometimes became.
The problematic reservation system was not Columbus' idea – nor was it the idea of the Spanish. It was an Anglo-American invention.
Columbus Day is a day for us to remember that bold and courageous voyage in 1492 that lead to the first sustained contact between two very different worlds. It is a day to remember the many good things that have come out of that contact, such as the founding of the United States, the first lasting democratic-republic.
It is also a day to remember our failings as a country, such as the trail of tears and the forced removal and re-education of native children in the twentieth century – episodes centuries after Columbus that the explorer neither caused nor condoned.
Each day, I see the continued hardships facing the first people of the Americas. I see the poverty, the alcoholism, the lack of quality education options, and the constant interference in Indian tribes' right to self-determination.
While activists are quick to unfairly blame Columbus for all of this, I have yet to see a group of protestors from the city get their boots dirty while trying to make a difference for those in need on the reservations. I do, however, see the constant presence of committed groups, like the Knights of Columbus, providing quality coats for children in winter, boxes upon boxes of food every fall, and love and friendship every day.
This Columbus Day, instead of spreading a hateful and misleading history from the comfort of our easy-chairs, I would call on all Americans to follow the example of groups like the Knights of Columbus.
Donate your time, effort and money to the hurricane relief efforts in Puerto Rico, Florida and Houston. Reach out to the peripheries in your own neighborhood. Bring companionship to your lonely elderly neighbor. Form friendships with those who are suffering.
Rather than dubiously assigning blame to one man, together we can truly help make the United States a better place for all of us, and achieve a harmony and understanding between native and immigrant peoples that has too often eluded us in our history.
This column first appeared at Real Clear Politics Oct. 6, 2017, and is re-printed here with permission.
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