Our View: Updating the History Books


What must our college history teachers think about what happened to Christopher Columbus?

Built to the status of a close demigod, Columbus occupies an important place in American history. Discovering the New World, bringing its riches to Europe, “enlightening” the natives, everything was there in the history books. There is even a mnemonic device to remember when he first sailed.

It’s a picturesque story when viewed through a sixth grade lens. Columbus connecting two worlds, then a little over 100 years later, men in funny hats celebrated the first Thanksgiving with the natives of the mainland.

But the truth, taken as a whole, tends to reshape our view of our past and leads us to ask new questions.

Questions such as: should we continue to honor, or even revere, Columbus?

Admittedly, this is not exactly a new question. It has been rumbling across the country for decades, even though this year was the first time a U.S. president has officially recognized Indigenous Peoples Day instead of Columbus Day.

However, Columbus’ question is not answered by what we choose to call a certain day. It goes straight to the heart of the story that Americans use to identify themselves.

There is a reason why many people oppose the removal of certain statues from public places. They are heroes for a lot of people. They shaped history, which in turn shaped cities, states, and countries. Who wants to see his beloved symbols moved?

Well, on the one hand, the victims of these symbols.

Gone are the days of making statues of people who enslaved and killed other people and put them in the spotlight. We are now in the days of our history lessons – in books and statues – providing context, nuance and the whole story.

It is not an erasure of history. It is an extension of it.

This expansion is to include the Nisenan tribe, who lived in what would become Nevada County when the first settlers arrived. The tribe once had federal recognition, which has since been lost. He is working on his reinstatement, which would give him a place at the table.

Nisenan spokesperson Shelly Covert said her tribe couldn’t join the federal government’s Truth and Healing Commission because they didn’t have that recognition. That must change, and we must all be engaged to help make the commission worthy of its name with the rightful place of the Nisenans.

The Nisenan will continue to work towards this goal, and the community can help.

To begin with, we can learn about the tribe that lived here. The ‘Uba Seo Gallery in Nevada City has periodic exhibitions and discussions about the Nisenan are held regularly in our county.

People can also donate to the Ancestral Homelands reciprocity program., which helps fund the Nisenan’s reconnaissance efforts.

Our children should learn more about the Nisenan in California history class, just as children in other parts of the country learn more about the Creek and Cherokee tribes. They can visit cultural sites and see firsthand how the Nisenan lived.

And at the same time, they can learn more about Columbus and what he brought to this continent, the full story.

Our children are smart. They can learn about all aspects of Columbus, Manifest Destiny and everything that goes with them, and realize that they are neither completely good nor bad. History, like people, is multifaceted. It shouldn’t have a golden sheen or faded rag draping it. We’re the ones who placed them, alternately dressing parts of our story as heroes or villains in our judgments at one point or another. It is different from understanding and perhaps the beginning of wisdom regarding the great nation that we aspire to be.

And, of course, our college professor might be happy or upset about it, but that’s okay because it’s high time to update the history books.

The weekly Our View editorial represents the consensus opinion of the Union Editorial Board, a group of Union editors and writers, and informed members of the community. Contact the Board of Directors at [email protected]


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