Rethinking Columbus

Sarah Hillenbrand

With Native American Heritage Month coming up in November, many events are being planned to make the Grand Valley State University community aware of the history and difficulties that the Native American people have faced. With today being Columbus Day, the Native American Advisory Board is hosting an event, “Rethinking Columbus” from 5:30 p.m. to 7:30 p.m. in the Loosemore Auditorium in the DeVos Center on GVSU’s Pew Campus.

“What will be discussed is the continuation of the propaganda being sold in our schools that are teaching the Columbus fairytale that he discovered this new land,” said Belinda Bardwell, a GVSU student who graduated last semester and who is now working to get into the public administration master’s program. “He started the slave trade and mass killed the people he came across.”

Bardwell is a member of the Native American Student Association, sits on the Native American Advisory Board and is a very active member of the Native American community, said Kristie Scanlon, assistant director of the Office of Multicultural Affairs.

Bardwell said the goal of the event is to encourage students to ask questions so they can be more educated on the true history of America.

“The purpose is not to make uninformed citizens feel shameful…but it’s to get people informed to make better life choices – an educated population is a healthier population, and we’re hoping that Native American Heritage Month can push for better education for K-12 schools and teach more informed history at colleges,” she said.

She added that Columbus Day shouldn’t be a nationally recognized holiday. There is a push from many states for an Indigenous People’s Day instead, which is a movement Bardwell supports.

“Making this a national holiday is equal to celebrating Hitler Day or Osama Bin Laden Day,” she said. “They are taught in schools as evil men, but when you talk about this nation and historical events on this land, it’s glassed over. We don’t want people to know the history of this land, we want patriotism perpetuated with the celebration of an evil tyrant.”

Scanlon said that many students don’t have the chance to hear about Columbus Day from a Native American perspective.

“This program provides an opportunity to hear a Native American viewpoint on Christopher Columbus and his claim of discovering America,” she said. “GVSU has a strong Native American student population and it’s important for the campus community to educate themselves about the culture, history and traditions.”

Bardwell said that though Native American Heritage Month gives students the opportunity to learn more about American history, it means nothing to her.

“To me, it means absolutely nothing because I live it every day,” she said. “I am Native American every day; I deal with racism and bigotry every day. It is a month afforded to us by the national government when we stress the education of our history, which is everybody’s history. Everyone should be aware of the genocide that happened on this land.”

Bardwell encouraged students to attend not only this event, but also others being put on in November so they can become more educated on the topic.

“They should go to gain knowledge that they don’t have access to,” she said. “They teach Native Americans as historical figures, but we’re not. We still struggle with inter-generational trauma.”

For more information about Native American Heritage Month events, visit

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