Subtopic: Columbus Day (Native American Perspective)


Grade Level: 4th-5th

Author: Jamie Huggard


In 1451, Christopher Columbus was born in Genoa, Italy. His true Italian name is Christoforo Colombo. Columbus' father was a weaver, and it was expected that Columbus would become one also. Instead, Columbus dreamed of becoming a sailor and so he talked with sailors and studied maps and charts.

When Columbus was fourteen, he was hired as a cabin boy. His main voyages were short trips to the Mediterranean Sea. By the time Columbus turned thirty he became a captain.

In 1476, Columbus became a Portuguese citizen and married Felipa. This is where his thoughts of traveling west to reach the Indies started to grow. He knew a voyage would be expensive, so in 1482, he asked King John II of Portugal for money and ships to sail west to the Indies. When the King refused, he went to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella of Spain. At first, he was rejected but when Columbus asked Spain the second time, Queen Isabella decided to fund the expedition.

Columbus was given three ships: the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. He also received eighty-eight men to serve as crew members.

On August 3, 1492, Columbus and his ships headed westward. Along the journey, the sailors began to be frightened. On October 10, they demanded that Columbus go back to Spain. To stop the tyranny, Columbus said that if they didn't sight land within two days, they would turn around.

Two days later, they saw birds and Columbus changed his direction to follow the birds. At 2:00 A.M., the morning of October 12, 1492, a sailor named Rodrigo de Triana on the Pinta sighted land.

Columbus dressed in his finest clothes to go ashore. He kissed the ground and claimed the land for Spain. There were people living on the island. They perceived Columbus as though he were a god. Columbus called these people "Indians" because he believed he had reached the Indies. He also announced the island to be named San Salvador.

He visited other islands in search of gold. The Santa Maria wrecked on a coral reef and Columbus had to leave without it. Columbus returned to Spain and forced some Indians to join him. He returned three more times, all voyages being unsuccessful in reaching the Indies. Columbus never saw the United States and he never thought he had found a new world, but he is still honored in America by celebrating Columbus Day on October 12, the day of his first landing in 1492. Many places in the United States are named after him including: Columbus, Ohio; Columbia, South Carolina; Columbia, Maryland; District of Columbia; and the South American nation of Columbia.

So why isn't our country named "Columbia?" When a map maker was making a new map he decided to include the new world, and he decided to give it a name. He called it "America" in honor of Amerigo Vespucci. In reality, Columbus nor Vespucci discovered America. Because "to discover" means to see or learn or find something for the first time, the Native Americans are the true discoverers of America.

The first Native Americans followed the animals over the Bering Strait from Siberia to Alaska. Gradually, groups of people went different directions. The tribe that met Columbus was called the Tainos. The Tainos lived on grassy plains and lowland rain forests. They inhabited the Northeastern coast of South America three thousand years ago. The natives were tall, handsome, and clean-shaven people. Their skin was olive-tan and many of them wore face and body paint.

The Tainos had to be surprised to see a large wooden boat land and strangely dressed men get out and kiss the ground. Columbus reported that the "Tainos liked a peaceful, unhurried life" (Clare, 28). They built hammocks to sleep in and men smoked tobacco while women told stories. In the Taino culture, old people cared for the children and prepared meals. The young women cultivated the fields, while the young men hunted for snakes, turtles, and iguanas.

The Tainos worshipped a supreme god but also believed in lesser spirits. When Columbus arrived, the Tainos believed Columbus and his men to be gods. This historic encounter where the Tainos met the Europeans was on the island the Tainos called Guananhani, their word for iguanas. According to Spanish, the Tainos hid in the bushes when they arrived. Soon the Tainos came out to meet the Europeans. Little did they know how it would change their lives.

In the beginning, the Tainos were amazed at the European's ships and their beautiful colors. They welcomed them into their homes, and were sure the Europeans were gods. Columbus wanted to convert the Tainos to Christianity. Columbus forced six Tainos to be his guides as he toured the other islands. He took these captives back to Spain with him.

Friendly relations between the two peoples did not last long. During another Spanish voyage, many Tainos were beaten and murdered. When the Spanish became hungry, they ransacked villages, leaving the Taino people helpless. Europeans brought diseases along with them that the Tainos lacked immunity to. The weapons that the Europeans had were no match to the Tainos. An estimated fifty thousand Tainos perished in the year 1494. There were also many Indian captives, so the Europeans decided to ship the Taino prisoners in bondage to Spain. Some sixteen hundred Tainos were taken to the port. Only five hundred and fifty captives could be jammed onto the boat. The rest were left behind to be slaves to the Spanish that stayed behind. Columbus issued a high tax on the Tainos. They were stuck. On one side if they refused to pay the tax, they faced death and on the other, they faced starvation. They were homeless in their own land. They were devastated by abuse, starvation, and disease. They were subjects of high taxes, and soon were forced to be subjects of the crown. Life was never the same for the Indians after that day in 1492.


Asimov, Issac. Christopher Columbus: Navigator to the New World. Wisconsin: Dareth Stevens Children's Books, 1991.

Clare, John. The Voyages of Christopher Columbus. New York: Gulliver Books, 1992.

DeRubertis, Barbara. Holidays and Heroes: Columbus Day. Kane Press, 1992.

Gleiter, Jan and Kathleen Thompson. Christopher Columbus. Wisconsin: Raintree Children's Books, 1987.

Jacobs, Francine. The Tainos: The People Who Welcomed Columbus. New York: Putnam's Sons, 1992.

Krensky, Stephen. Who Really Discovered America? New York: Hastings House, 1987.

Neal, Harry Edward. Before Columbus: Who Discovered America? New York: Julian Messner, 1981.

Sis, Peter. Follow the Dream: The Story of Christopher Columbus. New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1991.



* Students will recognize how Columbus' discoveries effected the Native Americans.

* After reading Christopher Columbus, students will be able to write a story about Columbus' first step on American ground from the Native American point of view.

* Given the reader's theater on Christopher Columbus, students will be able to place the events of Christopher Columbus' life and voyage in order on a time line with 80% accuracy.

* Given the reader's theater, students will recognize the characteristics of Columbus by completing a character sketch of him, and having three characteristics in order to pass.

* Students will be able to write a letter with correct grammar, punctuation and spelling.


Time Allotment: 1 week


Resources needed:

* Christopher Columbus (book)

* stamps

* reader's theater * envelopes

* poster paper

* paper

* map of the world

* markers

* pencil

* white and brown art paper

* water colors

* paint brushes

* glue



A. Carousel Brainstorming. To find out what the students already know about Columbus Day, group the children into four groups. Group them according to their birthdays: group one: birthdays in January, February, and March; group two: April, May, and June; group three, next three months; group four, last three months of the year. Have the following questions on large sheets of poster paper:

* What did Columbus find when he reached his destination?

* What happened to Columbus before he reached land?

* What do you think the Native Americans thought when they saw Columbus and his men?

* What happened to the Native Americans after the arrival of Columbus?


Assign each group a station and a certain color of marker. After 3 minutes at the first station have the groups move to the next station. Explain to them that they need to add to the list, but they can't write anything that is already on the list. Rotate the groups, so that each group has a chance to contribute to each station. Have one person from each group be the spokesman to tell the class the five most important things on their list.


B. Reader's Theater. Make copies for every student in the classroom. Assign the main parts to individual people and allow time for those people to read over their parts. Remind the students that the whole class joins in on the parts that says "All." This will develop the concept of Christopher Columbus, his life and his voyage.


C. Discussion. Explain to the children that Columbus was originally an Italian, but he got the money from Spain so he claimed America for Spain. Explain that Columbus went on four voyages and he thought that he never did find anything special. When he died many people disliked his beliefs and he was ridiculed. He also thought of himself as a failure because he never could find the Indies. Show on a map Columbus' voyage.


D. Character Sketch. At the conclusion of the reader's theater, have the students complete a character sketch of Columbus. Include his origin, his characteristic of endurance, his characteristic of pride and not letting others tell him he was wrong, his great sailing abilities, etc.


E. Time line. Have the students create a time line of when Columbus was born, until he died. Include important dates in Columbus' life like the following: the day he set sail for his first voyage, the day he landed, the day he returned to Spain, dates of other voyages, etc.


F. Art Project. Give the students two pieces of white art paper. On one piece have them use water colors to create a sunset. On the other use water colors to create the ocean. Tear the ocean page into strips. Place the strips on the page with the sunset creating the image of waves on the ocean. Have the students make a boat to place in their pictures to represent Columbus' voyage.


G. Literature: Read the book, Christopher Columbus by Jan Gleiter and Kathleen Thompson. Read up to page twenty-six and stop. Ask the students to write a story as if they were the Native Americans on the island, watching the sailors come in on huge boats and wearing fancy clothing. Have students share stories if desired.


H. Concept Development/Addition to Time Line. Discuss with the students how the Native Americans would have felt to see strange men dressed in strange clothing pull up in a huge boat and kiss the ground and say funny things. It was probably quite a shock. Discuss how the Native Americans were very generous with their belongings. Tell the students that the name of the Native Americans that met Columbus were Tainos. Tell the students that Columbus forced some Indians onto their boat, and later ransacked their villages, made them into slaves and took many back to Spain. From that time on, life for the Native Americans was difficult. They were homeless in their own land. Explain what "to discover" actually means. Explain that Columbus wasn't the first to discover America, the Native Americans were. Also explain that today the Native Americans that once owned the entire continent, now only have small reservations that they call home. Add to the timeline when Native Americans first came to America.


I. Letters: Have the students write letters to different organizations for information about Christopher Columbus. Explain to the students what a good letter needs to consist of. For example, the first paragraph should explain what the students are studying in class. The second paragraph should be the questions that they want answered. The third paragraph should show appreciation. Explain to the children also where to indent, where commas should go in a letter and appropriate words to use such as "Dear sir or madam," and "sincerely." Send the letters to the following organizations and have the student's questions be directed toward what happened to the Native Americans because of Columbus and what happened to them after Columbus came.


Columbus: Countdown 1992

166-25 Powells Cove Boulevard

Beechhurst, New York 11357


Discovery Five Hundred

PO Box 1492

Columbus, New Jersey 08022


American Geographical Society Collection

Golda Meir Library

University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee

PO Box 604

Milwaukee, Wisconsin 53201


Christopher Columbus

Quincentenary Jubilee Commission

1801 F Street NW

Washington, DC 20006


J. Open Discussion. Discuss any letters that the students might have received. Discuss that even though Columbus' arrival was a great discovery for the people of Europe, it proved to be unfortunate for the Native Americans. Then ask the students a final question: "What do you know about Columbus' voyage and also how the voyage affected the Native Americas?î



* Stories from the Native American perspective will be assessed.

* Character sketches will be assessed by including three characteristics required for passing.

* Observations during reader's theater.

* Letters will be assessed making sure the editing is correct: grammar, spelling, punctuation.

* Time lines of Columbus' life and voyage will be assessed with students meeting 80% accuracy.

* The students understanding of how Columbus changed the Native American way of life will be assessed with a discussion.


Click on Appendix for Reader's theater

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