Enjoy Columbus Day While You Can
Columbus used to be a hero because he brought white people and Western Civilization to the New Word, but now that makes him a great villain.
I have a better name for the holiday, which preserves the tradition of giving credit to a single man, in this case, an “indigenous person” named Opechancanough. He became chief of the Jamestown colony’s Indian neighbors when his older brother, Powhatan, died. Under Powhatan, whose favorite daughter had married an Englishman, there was peace.
Opechancanough was different. In 1622, he hatched a plot to exterminate every white man, woman, and child. The main population at Jamestown got wind of the plot, but even so, Opechancanough’s men managed to kill about 400 whites, or one-third of the colonists. The Indians had special consideration for George Thorpe, who had tried harder than any other colonial leader to be kind to Indians. In the words of a contemporary, they “did so many barbarous despights and foule scornes after to his dead corpse, as are unbefitting to be heard by any civill eare.”
The slaughter began a year-long war with the Indians, but Opechancanough sued for peace. Amazingly, in 1644, he ordered an identical sneak attack, and managed to kill between 400 and 500 English. This time, the colonists went on to kill so many Indians, including him, that two years later, the Virginia General Assembly noted with satisfaction that the natives were “so routed and dispersed that they are no longer a nation, and we now suffer only from robbery by a few starved outlaws.”
Opechancanough was a patriot and freedom fighter, a defender of his people against the rapacious white man. Rather than celebrating a tame abstraction — indigenous people — let us celebrate a hero who, not just once but twice, tried to save his tribe, his land, and his way of live by exterminating the hated white man. And Opechancanough is exactly the kind of alien, unpronounceable name that best stands for the America of the future.