In 1492, Christopher Columbus set out on a journey, got lost, and landed in America on October 12. To this day, there is a holiday marked on our calendars to commemorate this occasion, and it generally falls on a Monday on or around 10/12. I have my yearly eye roll as I go through my planners and calendars and cross out "Columbus Day."
I am not denying the historical significance of what ol' Chris did. He sailed pretty darn far and changed things, after all. There are two points to which I object:
1. He "discovered" America. The story in my primary school days always went that this guy came upon a barren chunk of rock that was full of resources. In my bowdlerized childhood textbooks, he was no harbinger of genocide. He did not bring all manner of disease and destruction with him. We are taught that he "discovered" America much the way one discovers a rare plant in a rain forest.
When I taught on Standing Rock, I found this concept so offensive that I refused to teach it to students. There were books that included "Columbus discovers America," in their timelines. I unabashedly crossed this out. Yes - I wrote in books that were not my own. I felt like it was an oppressive statement, and I couldn't, in good conscience, perpetuate that narrative to my students.
2. We celebrate this day. School children are taught cutesy rhymes, and Christopher Columbus is portrayed as some benevolent historical figure. In some parts of the country, we've changed Columbus Day to Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples' Day. Indigenous Peoples' Day/ Native American Day is something I can get behind. Native American Day still gives you the day off, which is really the only thing most functioning adults and school-aged humans care about anyway, but instead of extolling the virtues of someone who was at the very least lost, and at the worst an instrument of the destruction of countless lives, we focus on the diverse cultures of the indigenous peoples of this country.
Mni Wiconi (Water is life)
When I first wrote this post, the movement to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline had been underway for several months. Corporate greed won out in spite of all the promises made by the Army Corps of Engineers. They may have put in their pipeline, but the people still stand for the water. This controversy ignited fires in peoples' hearts and awakened a new generation to the continued oppression of indigenous people in this country and around the world.
Celebrating "Columbus Day" may seem innocuous to the average person on the street, but it salts a wound that has been reopened countless times for five centuries. We don't celebrate mass murderers and thieves. Why does this guy get a day? How high does the body count have to be before someone gets put onto the persona non grata list? We are still fighting back against circumstances that arose because of him.
Times they are a'changin'
On this day, instead of celebrating an Italian employed by Spaniards with terrible navigation skills, let's think about the 562 federally recognized tribes and around 400 non-recognized tribes. Let's take October 10th to honor these cultures.