"if you are neutral in situations of injustice, you have chosen
the side of the oppressor." - Desmond Tutu.

Let’s take a moment to remember Bartolomé de las Casas to mark the indigenous history month Featured

Gurpreet Singh

One of the motivations behind my going to Seville, in the summer of 2023, was to visit the monument built in memory of the author of The Devastation of the Indies, a first-hand account of the repression of the indigenous peoples of the Americas by Spanish conquerors.

Bartolomé de las Casas was born in 1484 to a merchant father, Pedro de las Casas, who had accompanied Columbus on one of his voyages. Columbus had given a young Indian slave to Pedro, who then gave him away to his son as a companion, but Bartolomé handed him over to the authorities so that he could be returned to the Indies.

Bartolomé thereby showed early signs of his disapproval of the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples whose lands were stolen by the Spanish.

As he grew older, he was ordained a deacon and became a priest in 1512. During his time in the Indies, he not only preached against the abuse of the natives by the colonists, but liberated his own slaves and began campaigning for their rights. His open denunciation of the slaughter of the indigenous peoples turned him into an enemy of the officials who were part of the exploitative structure. He faced death threats for seeing the whole affair as against his own Christian values.  

He remained steadfast in his resolve until his death in 1566. 

A sculpture stands on the bank of the Guadalquivir River, across from where he was born, according to Patrick Comerford. Thanks to the information given on his blog, my son and I were able to trace the monument built by Emilio García Ortiz.

Inaugurated in 1984 to mark the fifth centenary of his birth, the monument commemorates Bartolomé as a father-figure of human rights. Incidentally, it was the same year when the minority Sikh community suffered the worst human rights violations in India.

While we as Canadians are celebrating June as indigenous history month, we need to remember Bartolomé and his legacy. To start with, people need to read his book, which gives an idea how the Europeans colonized Turtle Island, and how problematic was the so-called doctrine of discovery that paved the way for marginalization of the indigenous peoples in North America, and their genocide through residential schools and other tools of white supremacy.

Also, we need to recognize and amplify the story of Bartolomé, to see that not every Christian priest was complicit in atrocities or misappropriated the Church to colonize indigenous peoples for material benefits.   


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Gurpreet Singh

Cofounder and Director of Radical Desi


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