Christopher Columbus arrived in the Americas in 1492. In 1494, he launched the trans-Atlantic slave trade, sending enslaved Taínos from the Caribbean to Spain, and forcing them to find gold in Hispaniola.
Shortly after, Spaniards brought kidnapped and enslaved Africans to the Americas. One Spanish governor complained as early as 1503, that enslaved Africans were “teaching disobedience to the Indians.” Spaniards put Africans to work in the mines and harvesting sugar cane (which Columbus had brought on his second voyage).
Of course, the Taínos needed no instruction in resistance. They fought back every way they could.
In the Americas, it began with Columbus: Taíno slavery, African slavery, enslaving women for sex, exploiting nature for profit. But also anti-colonial resistance.
This Indigenous Peoples’ Day, we remember the lives that were stolen, the wealth extracted, but also those who fought — and fight — for an end to the violence, and an end to using nature to satisfy greed.
At the Zinn Education Project, we continue our work to Abolish Columbus Day, to commemorate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and to offer resources to help our students understand this essential history.
Teaching Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Whose History Matters? Students Can Name Columbus, But Most Have Never Heard of the Taíno People
We usually think about the curriculum as what is taught in school. But as important — perhaps more important — is what is not taught, which includes the lives rendered invisible.
For the Taíno people of the Caribbean, their erasure began almost immediately, with Columbus’s arrival. It was not curricular, it was flesh and blood. “With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” Columbus wrote in his journal on his third day in the Americas.
Abolish Columbus Day Campaign and Mapping Project
We encourage schools to petition their administration and communities to introduce legislation to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day. To support that project, we provide information and resources in our campaign to Abolish Columbus Day.
We also track communities’ successes in our interactive map, where you can explore the states, cities, towns, and schools where Columbus Day has been abolished and/or Indigenous Peoples’ Day was adopted.
Teach Climate Justice
The climate crisis threatens our students’ lives. And yet, throughout the United States, schools have failed to put the climate at the center of the curriculum.
To address the gulf between the climate emergency and schools’ inadequate response, the Zinn Education Project offers classroom-tested lessons, workshops for educators, and a sample school board climate justice resolution.
Below, find more recommended resources to teach about Indigenous Peoples’ Day and the history of Christopher Columbus.