Rethinking Columbus Expanded Second Edition

Rethinking Columbus Expanded Second Edition

The Next 500 Years

Edited By Bill Bigelow, Bob Peterson

Table of Contents

Due to tremendous demand for this book, for which we are both hopeful and grateful, the title is in reprint and back ordered. Please visit our website on Monday, June 15th to place an order, and allow 2-3 weeks for shipping.

Why rethink Christopher Columbus? Because the Columbus myth is a foundation of children's beliefs about society. Columbus is often a child's first lesson about encounters between different cultures and races. The murky legend of a brave adventurer tells children whose version of history to accept, and whose to ignore. It says nothing about the brutality of the European invasion of North America.

We need to listen to a wider range of voices. We need to hear from those whose lands and rights were taken away by those who "discovered" them. Their stories, too often suppressed, tell of 500 years of courageous struggle, and the lasting wisdom of native peoples. Understanding what really happened to them in 1492 is key to understanding why people suffer the same injustices today.

More than 80 essays, poems, interviews, historical vignettes, and lesson plans reevaluate the myth of Columbus and issues of indigenous rights. Rethinking Columbus is packed with useful teaching ideas for kindergarten through college.

Spanish introduction available here                                                                    

Recommended by the Smithsonian National Museum of the American Indian

In this New Edition:

  • Updated resource listings
  • Classroom materials
  • Handouts and lesson plans
  • Poems
  • Web site listings
  • And much more!

First published in 1991, Rethinking Columbus has changed the way schools teach about the "discovery of America." This greatly expanded edition has more than 100 pages of new material, including handouts to conduct a classroom "Trial of Columbus" and other activities.

In its "9 Teaching Resources that Tell the Truth About Columbus," Indian Country Today lists Rethinking Columbus as its "most highly recommended."

"The original edition made educational history by introducing a startling new view of Columbus … In the revised edition we get even richer material, a marvelous compendium of history, literature, original sources, commentary … an exciting treasure for teachers, students, and the general public."

           — Howard Zinn, author A People's History of the United States

"Our Creator gave each of us two ears. Thus we have the ability to listen to both sides. Since its first publication, Rethinking Columbus has been a valuable resource for librarians, teachers, and all those interested in using both of their ears to hear this complex story. The good news about the second edition is that it remains just as readable and interesting while adding much new material. This is truly a book that deserves (and needs) to be in every school library."

           — Joseph Bruchac (Abenaki), editor of the Greenfield Review

A sampling of praise for the first edition of Rethinking Columbus:

"Until we realize that history is comprised of the good, the bad, and the ugly, we will never be truly free. This book is an important step in unifying our common destiny."

           — Maria Garza Lubeck, Children’s Defense Fund

"It’s moving, thrilling! … an essential resource for any teacher …"

           —Harriet Rohmer, director, Children’s Book Press

"Goodbye, Columbus? … For too long, the story of Columbus has been all one-sided. But that is starting to change, possibly forever."

           —San Francisco Examiner


Why Rethink Columbus?

by the editors — 10

We Have No Reason to Celebrate

by Suzan Shown Harjo — 12

America to Indians: Stay in the 19th Century!

by Jan Elliott — 14


Indians Claim Italy — 16

by "Right of Discovery" from The New York Times

Discovering Columbus: Re-reading the Past — 17

by Bill Bigelow

Sugar & Slavery — 22

by Philip Martin

African-American Resistance — 24

by Bill Fletcher

My Country, 'Tis of Thy People You're Dying — 28

by Buffy Sainte-Marie

Historic Tribal Locations Map — 30

Elementary School Issues

What Not To Teach — 32

by June Sark Heinrich

A Friend of the Indians — 34

by Joseph Bruchac

Columbus & Native Issues in the Elementary Classroom — 35

by Bob Peterson

1492 (song) — 41

by Nancy Schimmel

The Untold Story — 42

by Tina Thomas

The Sacred Buffalo Rosalie Little Thunder — 44

Once Upon a Genocide: Columbus in Children's Literature — 47

by Bill Bigelow

George Washington: An American Hero? — 56

by the CIBC

Scalping: Fact & Fantasy — 58

by Philip Martin

Indian Lands for Sale Poster — 60

A Barbie-Doll Pocahontas — 61

by Cornel Pewewardy

Good Intentions Are Not Enough: Recent Children's Books on the Columbus-Taíno Encounter — 62

by Bill Bigelow

Teaching Ideas — 69

Rethinking Thanksgiving

The Delight Song of Tsoai-Talee

by N. Scott Momaday — 72

Giving Thanks: The Story of Indian Summer

by Joseph Bruchac — 73

Thanking the Birds

by Joseph Bruchac — 74

Alphabet of the Americas — 75

Why I'm Not Thankful for Thanksgiving

by Michael Dorris — 76

Plagues & Pilgrims: The Truth about the First Thanksgiving by James W. Loewen — 79

Teaching Ideas & Suggested Activities — 83

The Trial (The People vs. Columbus, et al.)

For the Sake of Gold — 86

by Hans Koning

A Class Role Play — 87

by Bill Bigelow

The Trial in the Elementary Classroom — 94

by Bob Peterson

Columbus's Diary: Reading Between the Lines — 95

by Bill Bigelow

The First Few Days: The Journal of Christopher Columbus — 96

Timeline: Spain, Columbus, and Taínos — 99

"Open Your Hearts" — 103

adapt. from Bartolomé de las Casas

The Taínos

The Taínos: "Men of the Good" — 106

by José Barreiro

Imagining the Taínos — 108

by Bill Bigelow

The Gold People — 110

by Anna Hereford

Taíno Resistance: Enrique's Uprising — 111

by Alvin Josephy, Jr.

Rethinking Terms — 112

by Philip Tajitsu Nash and Emilienne Ireland

Secondary School Issues

Ceremony — 114
by Leslie Marmon Silko
Talking Back to Columbus: Teaching for Justice and Hope — 115
by Bill Bigelow
Columbus Day — 123
by Jimmie Durham
Broken Spears Lie in the Roads — 124
by unknown Aztec Poet
Black Indians & Resistance — 125
by William Loren Katz
Indian Singing in 20th Century America — 128
by Gail Tremblay
Cowboys and Indians: On the Playground — 129
by Ray Gonzalez
Human Beings Are Not Mascots — 131
by Barbara Munson
Looney Tunes and Peter Pan: Unlearning Racist Stereotypes — 133
by Linda Christensen
Bones of Contention — 134
by Tony Hillerman
Three Thousand Dollar Death Song — 135
by Wendy Rose
Canada Apologizes to its Native People — 136
from the Associated Press
What's in an Apology? — 137
by Bob Peterson
Elizabeth Peratrovich Day — 138
Teaching Ideas — 139

Contemporary Struggles

Current Struggles around the Hemisphere — 142
Treaty Rights: An Overview — 144
by Philip Martin
A Modern Hero: Rigoberta Menchú — 146
by Deborah Menkart
Resistance at Oka — 148
by Peter Blue Cloud
The Unity of Native Peoples — 150
by Billy Redwing Tayac
Leonard Peltier: An American Political Prisoner — 151
by Philip Martin
Loo-Wit — 152
by Wendy Rose
The Theft of the Black Hills — 153
by Philip Martin
Shrinking Indian Lands Map Series — 155
The Earth is a Satellite of the Moon — 156
by Leonel Rugama
Teaching Ideas — 157

Environmental Issues

To the Women of the World: Our Future, Our Responsibility — 160
by Winona LaDuke
People vs. Nature in 15th-century Europe — 162
by Kirkpatrick Sale
Radioactive Mining: Good Economics or Genocide? — 163
by Ward Churchill
All Pigs on Deck: The Columbus Myth & the Environment — 165
by Bill Bigelow
The Land of the Spotted Eagle — 166
by Luther Standing Bear
The Earth and the American Dream: Selected Quotes from the video — 167
The Earth and the American Dream: Questions — 169
Red Ribbons for Emma — 170
by Deb Preusch, et al.
Teaching Ideas — 172

Final Words

Remember — 174
by Joy Harjo
For Some, a Time of Mourning — 175
by Wendy Rose
The Blue Tiger — 177
by Eduardo Galeano
Colibrí — 179
by Martin Espada


Books for young readers and adults, curriculum materials, videos, websites, organizations, and more! — 182

Why rethink Christopher Columbus?

Students at Jefferson High School in Portland, Oregon, commemorated the 500th anniversary of Columbus's arrival in the Americas by launching a school-wide "discovery." They invaded other classrooms, stole teachers' purses, and claimed them as theirs. Adapting a lesson described in the first edition of Rethinking Columbus (p. 17 in this edition), students emptied a purse in front of a teacher and her class, then remarked on its contents: "This sure is good gum, think I'll have a piece ... or two; you all know this is my purse, 'cause this is just my shade of lipstick." Kids in the assaulted classrooms figured out what was going on only when the invaders compared their "discovery" to Columbus's "discovery." The high-school students, with advance permission from other teachers, led discussions and described Columbus's policies toward the Taíno Indians on Hispaniola. They concluded by offering black armbands to students as a way to demonstrate solidarity with Native Americans’ 500 years of resistance.

Just two years before, in October of 1990, the Chicago Tribune had promised that the Columbus Quincentenary would be the "most stupendous international celebration in the history of notable celebrations." The Portland students' "Discovery Day" is not what the Tribune had in mind.

Prompted by widespread Native American activism leading up to the Quincentenary, educators throughout the Americas re-evaluated the social and ecological consequences of the Europeans' arrival in 1492. Teacher unions, community groups, social justice organizations, universities, and school districts initiated workshops and teach-ins. New curricula, videos and children's books appeared. In 1991, Rethinking Schools published the first edition of Rethinking Columbus, which subsequently went through seven printings and sold 225,000 copies. We were pleased to be a part of a movement to question a myth that dismissed the very humanity of entire peoples. We believe this critical work by so many has made a profound impact in schools.

But we have a long way to go. Too many children's books, textbooks, and curricula continue to tout the traditional Columbus myth. For many youngsters, the "discovery of America" is their first curricular exposure to the encounter between two cultures and to the encounter between two races.

The "Columbus-as-Discoverer" myth teaches children whose voices to listen for as they go out into the world — and whose to ignore. Pick up a typical children's book on Columbus: See Chris; see Chris talk; see Chris grow up, have ideas, have feelings; see Chris plant the flag... In these volumes, native peoples of the Caribbean, the "discovered," are portrayed without thoughts or feelings. And thus children begin a scholastic voyage that encourages them to disregard the perspectives, the lives, of people of color. Both the words and images of the Columbus myth implicitly tell children that it is acceptable for one group of heavily-armed, white people from a "civilized" country to claim and control the lands of distant non-white others.

During the Quincentenary, a more "balanced" approach to European/Native American conflict also emerged. According to a Library of Congress-produced curriculum that exemplified this seemingly neutral inquiry, "The story of the Americas, more than any other area of the world, is the story of peoples and cultures coming together," resulting in"a cultural mixture." This newer framework suggested that world history since 1492 has been a series of trades and trade-offs. "They" gave "us" the potato, corn, and a great deal of gold. "We" gave "them" the horse, sugar, and, regrettably, germs. This process planted "seeds of change," in the words of the Smithsonian Institution. While offering important insights, this approach failed to address questions of the origins of racism, economic exploitation, and resistance.

In this new edition of Rethinking Columbus, we try to offer an alternative narrative. Our goal is not to idealize native people, demonize Europeans, or present a depressing litany of victimization. We hope to encourage a deeper understanding of the European invasion's consequences, to honor the rich legacy of resistance to the injustices it created, to convey some appreciation for the diverse indigenous cultures of the hemisphere, and to reflect on what this all means for us today.

We have tried to provide a forum for native people to tell some of their side of the encounter — through interviews, poetry, analysis, and stories. The point is not to present "two sides," but to tell parts of the story that have been mostly neglected.

It would be nice to think that the biases in the curriculum disappear after Columbus. But the Columbus myth is only the beginning of a winners' history that profoundly neglects the lives and perspectives of many "others": people of color, women, working-class people, the poor.

Columbus's Legacy

Columbus is dead but his legacy is not. In 1492, Columbus predicted, "Considering the beauty of the land, it could not be but that there was gain to be got." From the poisonous chemical dumps and mining projects that threaten groundwater, to oil spills on the coastal shorelines to the massive clearcutting of old-growth forests, Columbus's exploitative spirit lives on.

Likewise, the slave system Columbus introduced to this hemisphere was ultimately overthrown, but not the calculus that weighs human lives in terms of private profit — of the "gain to be got."

We've featured essays and interviews that underscore contemporary resistance to the spirit of Columbus. We believe that children need to know that while injustice persists, so does the struggle for humanity and the environment.

In a very real sense, most of us are living on stolen land. However, this knowledge must not be used to make white children feel guilty. There is nothing students can do to change history. And they should not feel responsible for what others did before they were born. However, we hope the materials in Rethinking Columbus will help you teach that people of all backgrounds do have a responsibility to learn from history. We can choose whether to reverse the legacy of injustice or continue it. This is one reason that we've made special efforts in this edition to highlight people who have chosen to stand for justice.

We hope that these materials will also help students to discover new ways of understanding relationships between society and nature. Even the very words used by different cultures to describe the natural world are suggestive: compare the West's "environment" — something which surrounds us — to native peoples' "Mother Earth" — she who gives us life. Native views of the earth challenge students to locate new worlds of ecological hope.

Through critiquing traditional history and imagining alternatives, students can begin to discover the excitement that comes from asserting oneself morally and intellectually — refusing to be passive consumers of official stories. This is as true for 4th graders as it is for juniors in high school. Students can continue to renew and deepen this personal awakening as they seek out other curricular silences and sources of knowledge.

As the scholar Edward Said noted, "Nations are narratives." For too many, this country has been a narrative that started with the myth of Columbus. It's time to hear other voices. We offer this second edition of Rethinking Columbus as our contribution to a many-sided and ongoing discussion about the future.

— the editors

Spanish translation available here