Columbusia?

Imagine if Martians traveled to Earth and they named the planet Xiksa (Martian for Water). It might rub a few Earthlings the wrong way. Now imagine they travel to specific continents, like Turtle Island, what most people call North America; and imagine they name it Zdinsc (after the first Martian to alight on the continent). How would that feel, especially after the Martians launch a full scale invasion and colonization of the planet?

Recently, Dictionary.com featured a question: “Why is it called America, not Columbusia?”:

But what about America itself? Why aren’t the continents of North and South America called “Columbusia” after Christopher Columbus? The word America comes from a lesser-known navigator and explorer, Amerigo Vespucci.1

Maybe Vespucci is the source for the naming of the western hemisphere, but it is disputed by others. The historian and sailor Samuel Morison was sure the hemisphere’s continents are named after Welshman Richard Amerike, the man who financed John Cabot’s westward voyage in 1497.2

BBC History wrote, “… it is also probable that, as the chief sponsor of the Matthew’s voyage, and with Cabot’s wife and children then living, at his instigation, in a house belonging to a close friend, Amerike sought reward for his patronage by asking that any new-found lands should be named after him.”3

A weeks ago, I read a grade 10 Social Studies test. On it was a question: “Who discovered Vancouver Island?” The multiple-choice question offered the names of five Europeans. Even if the question had been posed as “Which non-Indigenous explorer first reached an island later to become named Vancouver Island?,” all five proposed names were wrong. It was a terribly worded and trivial question. People who are not blinkered by ethnocentrism today realize that it is incorrect to depict a place where human beings already reside as being discovered by human beings from another ethnic group.

Can it therefore be morally correct to append a colonial designation upon the land inhabited by another people without their consent?

Three major First Nations reside on Vancouver Island (immodestly named Quadra and Vancouver Island by seafarers Bodega y Quadra and George Vancouver): Nuu-chah-nulth, Kwakwaka’wakw, and Coast Salish. I have never been able to determine an Indigenous designation for the island. These nations each reside in their own section of the largest island on the west coast of Turtle Island.

Turning to the northern continent, how then should one refer to the landmass in deference to the Original Peoples? The eastern nations of the Haudenosaunee and Anishnabek both refer to the continent as Turtle Island – a name derived from folklore.

One Indigenous website, Mexica Uprising!, urges Indigenous peoples to “rise up against the illegal settler population whom continue to enslave us socially, economically, politically and spiritually.”4 It proffers another name for the landmasses of the western hemisphere.

The website complains, “Latin America is named after the White people of Latin descent who stole our land and claimed it as their own. The Europeans brand everything they ‘own’ with their name, it is no different with our land.” The proper name in Nahuatl is given as Ixachilan – “one mass of land united by the Eagle and Condor not two seperate [sic] continents.”

Mexica Uprising! implores Indigenous peoples, “It is time to de-colonize our minds and think as individuals. Don’t let the wasicu control your destiny, learn your true history and culture!”

Is de-colonization just meant for the minds of the colonized? Is it not about time for those who have profited from the actions of colonialist ancestors to reorient their thinking along a different moral path — a path that acknowledges and rejects past crimes against humanity and seeks to atone for past crimes, not committed by themselves, but from which they profit in some sense?

Or is aggressive Martian morality acceptable?

  1. the hot word, “Why is it called America, not Columbusia?Dictionary.com, 9 October 2011. []
  2. Samuel Eliot Morison, The European Discovery of America: The Northern Voyages, Oxford University Press, New York, 1971. []
  3. Peter MacDonald, “The Naming of America,” BBC History. Last updated 29 March 2011. []
  4. Welcome to Mexica Uprising!” Mexica Uprising. []

Kim Petersen is co-editor of Dissident Voice. He can be reached at: kim@dissidentvoice.org. Read other articles by Kim.