Monday, October 19, 2015

223.4 - The rise of Indigenous Peoples' Day

The rise of Indigenous Peoples' Day

Another area where we seem to at long last be maturing as a people can be seen in that fact that since August, eight more US municipalities have declared October 12 to be "Indigenous Peoples Day" in honor of the histories, cultures, stories, and accomplishments of the native peoples who populated North America thousands of years before Columbus "discovered America."

Those eight are Olympia, WA, and St. Paul, MN, which did so in August; Anadarko, OK, and Alpena, WI, which followed in September; and Albuquerque, NM, Lawrence, KS, Portland, OR, and Bexar County, TX, which acted this month.

They are not the first to do so: Seattle and Minneapolis made the switch last year; Berkeley, CA did so back in 1992, and South Dakota has had Native American Day since 1990.

But they are part of a growing trend.

There have been observances in the US of Columbus's voyages since the colonial period, but the roots of Columbus Day as a holiday go back to Colorado in 1907, a place and time when Italians were near the bottom of the social and economic ladder. An Italian immigrant laborer named Angelo Noce, apparently wanting to elevate the image of Italians among his contemporaries, worked to have the state legislature declare October 12 Columbus Day, possibly because, according to his daughter, Noce figured that Columbus was the one Italian that "Americans would not throw rocks at." By the time of his death in 1922, 35 states had declared Columbus Day an official holiday; today, 46 states and the federal government do.

The thing is, by now everyone knows that Columbus didn't "discover America" if we equate "America" with the US. His voyages - there were four of them - never touched the mainland of North America but went to the Caribbean. He wasn't even the first European to reach the so-called "New World," not when there were Norse in Newfoundland about 1000CE.

More to the point, we've become more aware of the impact of Columbus's voyages on the natives he encountered and the broader impact on the peoples of North America from the expansion of Europe's vision he helped inspire, an impact driven by dreams of riches that produced for the natives disease, murder, slavery, exploitation, and death on a colossal scale.

Let it be said: Columbus and those who followed in his wake did not inflict this suffering on the natives because they were natives - Europeans were more than willing to murder, enslave, and torture each other and those tortures, in particular, could be let's call it quite creative - they inflicted it because it was to their profit to do so. It was the pursuit of profit that drove it. (Although, it should be added, it appears that old Chris himself was a particularly nasty example of his time.)

Let it be said, too, that the native peoples of North America, including the Caribbean, were not a bunch of tree-hugging pacifists free from evil we're supposed to think inherently European impulses like war, murder, and slavery. But like some Type 1 civilization facing the Borg, "resistance was futile." And the ultimate devastation was the same whether they resisted or not.

So what I find to applaud in the move to drop Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day is not that we can conveniently ascribe virtue here and venality there, all good here and all evil there, but that we non-indigenous people of the US are beginning, beginning, to take account of our own history in all its complexity, for good and for evil.

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