Fact Check: Report by Prager U about Columbus day!

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Prager U is an online platform that shares short, highly questionable “educational” videos, a viral video about Columbus day has claimed the following :

Goodbye, Columbus Day

Even though it remains a national holiday, many cities no longer celebrate Columbus Day. They celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead. What’s behind the switch? Contrary to what you might think, it’s not about paying homage to America’s original inhabitants. Steven Crowder, host of Louder with Crowder, explains. Donate today to PragerU!

Claim 1 :

Columbus was the ” first person to cross the Atlantic from the continent of Europe ”

Fact Check 1: 

This is technically true, if somewhat misleading. The journey of Icelander Leif Erikson to three lands West of Greenland in 999 is recorded in the Saga of Vinland and the Saga of Greenlanders, which include plausible details of the terrain and inhabitants of Northeastern Canada, with the three landings possibly corresponding to Baffin Island (Helluland), Labrador (Markland) and Newfoundland (Vinland). The Norse distinguished Canada from Greenland by the presence of trees.

While Erikson himself did not travel from continental Europe to North America, Erikson’s expedition was preceded by a Norwegian merchant named Bjarni Herjólfsson, who sighted but did not land on lands to the West after sailing from Europe in search of his parents in 896, as recorded in the Saga of Greenlanders.

 

Claim 2 :  ” Of the estimated 250,000 natives in Hispaniola, Columbus’s first stop in the Americas in 1492, new infectious diseases wiped out a staggering 95% of their population by 1517″

Fact Check 2: 

Inconclusive though unlikely based on most historical opinions. Experts disagree on the 1493 native Hispaniola population of Tainos–a sub group of the Arawakan Indians–ranging anywhere from 60,000 to 8,000,000 so determining an exact percentage is very difficult before even considering the cause of depopulation. Frank Moya Pons Ph.D. the leading contemporary historians of the Dominican Republic states that the reason for the rapid decline of the Taino population was “produced by mass suicides, homicides, abortions, and maltreatment, not including the illness that also should have affected part of the population, although it may not have been in the same measure that the aforementioned factors did it.” while others like David Patrick Henige Ph.D. believe that the encomienda (slavery) system was responsible for the decline of the native Hispaniola population, suggesting “the fact that smallpox did not strike the Hispaniola Indians until they had begun to be concentrated into settlements by the Spanish only reinforces other evidence that the island’s contact population was not particularly large and had been declining ever since the Spanish first arrived.”

Instead it should be pointed out that Crowder attempts to distract from Columbus’ actions with his statement “there was never an outright policy of Indian extermination”. While this is true it ignores the policy of tribute in which every Taino over the age of fourteen had to supply the rulers with a hawk’s bell of gold every three months and were rewarded with a token to wear around their necks as proof that they had made their tribute while those who were not able to provide the tribute faced punishment by having their hands cut off and left to bleed to death.

 

Claim 3:

“When Columbus arrived, the islands were inhabited by two main tribes: the Arawaks, who were passive and friendly, and the Caribs, who were vicious cannibals. The Arawaks actually lived in fear of the Caribs for—you guessed it—the reasons being that they hunted them down to enslave them and eat them. Yes—eat them. Ironically, we get the name “Caribbean Islands” from those famous people-eaters.

The only way settlers were able to conquer this land was through the help of Native Americans who teamed up with them to settle the score with other tribes who were even bigger jerks than they were!”

Fact Check 3: 

False, first “the islands” mentioned are better known as the island of Trinidad. Next there is no archaeological evidence that the Caribs “were vicious cannibals” who “hunted them [Arawaks] down” as Crowder puts it. The only evidence that the Arawak and other Amerindian groups such as the Carib and Tupinamba participated in ritual cannibalism of war captives. Instead what Crowder is suggesting was likely a myth perpetuated to justify the enslavement of native people who resisted the Spaniards due to the law of Queen Isabella not allowing the enslavement of native people. Eventually Queen Isabella allowed any native person to be enslaved in order to replace slaves who died in the Cuban gold mines.

In the end both tribes were nearly exterminated so there was no teaming up “to settle the score with other tribes”.

 

Claim 4:

” You think Cortes was able to command and conquer with only 500 or so Conquistadors? Of course not! It took 50,000 screaming, ANGRY allied natives who’d had it up to here with being tortured, enslaved and forced to carry gold for the other native Aztecs”

 

Fact Check 4: 

False, while it is true that in 1519, Hernán Cortés left Cuba with about 600 men in his principal voyage that took the Mexica (Aztec) ruled city of Tlaxcala with the help of Xicotenga. There were not 50,000 allied natives, at most a couple of thousand. They only became allies thinking they might not be as bad as the Mexica and after weeks of bloody battle with the Spanish that resulted in a truce they agreed to help the Spanish still having some warriors left. Later when the Tlaxcala ruler Xicotencatl the Younger realized the Spanish were more dangerous than the Mexica and attempted openly break with them in 1521 and was ordered publicly hanged by Cortés. Even in order to get his own men to fight Cortés had to set fire to their ships so his men would have no choice but to press on.

 

Claim 5:

Not only did the Natives brutally take out PEOPLE, but they took out entire forests and hunted species to extinction.

Fact Check 5:

False, it sounds like Crowder is referring to the controlled burns that some Native Americans practiced prior to colonists arrival in order to maintain wildlife habitats, cultures, and economies. Crowder also seems to be confused as the American Bison was hunted nearly to extinction but not by the native population, instead by the settlers who even hunted the American Bison not for a food source but simply to destroy a native food source. There is no evidence to support either assertion that Crowder is providing.

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