Did you celebrate 'Indigenous Peoples Day' yesterday?
It appears that the second Monday in October being celebrated as "Columbus Day" is going the way of the Confederate battle flag and monuments to Southern soldiers – and for much the same reason. More and more cities are dropping the acknowledgment of the European discovery of America in favor of "Indigenous Peoples Day."
The holiday’s new designation follows a decades-long push by Native American activists in dozens of cities across the country to abolish Columbus Day, and they have had mixed but increasingly successful results, according to the AP.
The next community to consider the change is Oklahoma City, where local leaders are scheduled this week to vote on a bill implementing Indigenous Peoples Day, according to NBC affiliate KFOR.
“This is something that I’ve struggled with for a long time,” Sarah Adams-Cornell told the station last month. “The fact that our country, our state and our city celebrate this holiday around this man who murdered and enslaved and raped indigenous people and decimated an entire population.”
In cities that have implemented a new holiday, activists described the change as the first step in a larger effort to reclaim a more accurate telling of history. For those communities, parades celebrating Columbus ignore a violent past that led to hundreds of years of disease, colonial rule and genocidal extermination following the Italian explorer’s accidental trip to the Americas, according to the AP.
“For the Native community here, Indigenous Peoples Day means a lot,” Nick Estes of Albuquerque, who is involved in planning the city’s Indigenous Peoples celebration scheduled for Monday, told the AP. “We actually have something. We understand it’s just a proclamation, but at the same time, we also understand this is the beginning of something greater.”
n a blog post published by the Huffington Post, Bill Bigelow, co-director of the Zinn Education Project, which “promotes and supports the teaching of people’s history in middle and high school classrooms across the country,” explained why many historians and indigenous communities find Columbus’s legacy so troubling.
“Columbus initiated the trans-Atlantic slave trade, in early February 1494, first sending several dozen enslaved Taínos to Spain,” Bigelow wrote. The following year, Columbus ramped up his attempt at making slavery a profitable enterprise, by rounding up 1,600 Taínos, sending the “best” 550 of those to Spain and telling his fellow colonialists they were free to take whoever remained.
Why do native Americans insist we don't pay enough attention – or ignore entirely – the complicated and sometimes brutal legacy of white settlement in America? Anyone with an education beyond second grade in America is fully aware of the atrocities committed – at least by whites. Native American massacres? Not so much. Or if they are mentioned, it's clear that since white people massacred native Americans, they were justified in massacring whites.
But the activists don't do nuance, and they certainly ignore the fact that many native American tribes had slaves, that they tortured prisoners in a most horrific manner, and that the overwhelming majority of native American deaths resulted from diseases to which they had no immunity. In fact, most native Americans who died of these diseases never laid eyes on a white man. The trade networks that crisscrossed North America spread the disease far faster than whites could move into the interior of the continent.
Instead, the picture of Native Americans that emerges from activist accounts is of peace-loving peoples living in an idyllic paradise – until the serpent arrived in the form of Columbus. The actual picture is far more complicated, of course, but don't tell that to the activists – they will accuse you of being a racist.
We musn't try to bring facts to bear on this argument, because it interferes with the narrative. The clash of native culture with European culture was, as with most of these clashes that have occurred since the dawn of time, a tragedy. The last thing anyone is looking to do is hide that past. But that fact doesn't play into the persecution complex of native American activists who keep insisting the brutality by whites and efforts by the U.S. government to destroy native American culture is a big secret kept locked away in a closet somewhere.
Columbus was a flawed human being – about as unlovely a man as we can imagine. He was ambitious, single-minded, stubborn, and without empathy for the people he subjugated. But those same qualities that played into his brutal treatment of native Americans also allowed him to initiate a series of astonishing voyages that had never been attempted before.
Is there nothing to celebrate in this man? For those who choose to ignore the big picture for political purposes, apparently not.