Monday, October 13, 2008

Indigenous Peoples Day: Replacing Columbus Day

The idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day was not a new one. It was first proclaimed by representatives of Native nations and participants at the United Nations-sponsored International Conference on Discrimination Against Indigenous Populations in the Americas, which took place in 1977 in Geneva, Switzerland. The declaration of this body was applauded and echoed by Native peoples around the globe.

Indigenous peoples and human rights/peace/social justice/environmental organizations were beginning to gear up for the 500th anniversary of Columbus' voyage, 1492-1992, which marked the beginning of the European invasion of the Western Hemisphere and Native resistance to it. While governments were trying to make it into a celebration of colonialism, Native peoples wanted to use the occasion to reveal the historical truths about the invasion and the consequent genocide and environmental destruction, to organize against its continuation today, and to celebrate Indigenous resistance.
Christopher Columbus Explorer
With representatives from 120 Indian nations from every part of the Americas, the all-Indigenous First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance, held in Quito, Ecuador in July 1990, saw itself as fulfilling a prophesy that the Native nations would rise again when the eagle of the north joined with the condor of the south. The conference resolved to transform Columbus Day, 1992, "into an occasion to strengthen our process of continental unity and struggle towards our liberation."
Resistance 500

Upon return, all the conference participants and like minded others began organizing in their communities. A year and a half before the Quincentenary, Indian people of Northern California met at Native American D-Q University in Davis, California, and organized the Bay Area Indian Alliance for counter-quincentennial planning. They resolved to "reaffirm October 12, 1992 as International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples." The final day of the conference was moved to Oakland and was opened to non-Native people. This conference organized a broad coalition to coordinate 1992 activities with Indigenous leadership, called Resistance 500. The Resistance 500 coalition broke down into four committees revolving around different municipalities, planning local activities in San Francisco, Oakland, Berkeley and the South Bay.

Meanwhile, the Bay Area had been chosen by the U. S. Congress as the national focus for the planned Quincentenary Jubilee hoopla, with replicas of Columbus' ships scheduled to sail into the Golden Gate and land in a grand climax (eventually canceled). Berkeley Resistance 500 asked the City Council to set up a task force to make recommendations regarding Quincentenary planning.

After meeting for a number of months, the Resistance 500 Task Force proposed replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day.

To make the case for changing Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, the Task Force had to convince the community not only that Native people should be honored with a day, but that Columbus should no longer be honored. The Task Force presented their research which showed overwhelming evidence that Columbus himself took personal leadership in acts that would today be called genocide.
Abolish Columbus Day: Native American Genocide
Columbus planned to conquer and colonize all the Caribbean islands and the mainland. The islands were populated by over a million Taino Indians, peaceful farmers and fishermen. Unable to find enough gold to finance his schemes, Columbus captured thousands of Tainos and shipped them to the slave markets of Spain. The Tainos resisted with fishbone-tipped spears, but these were no match for artillery. Columbus demanded that each Taino pay a tribute of gold dust every three months, under penalty of amputation of the hands. In two years over a hundred thousand Tainos were dead, and the survivors were slaves in the mines and plantations. Columbus personally invented European imperialism in the Americas and the transatlantic slave trade.

Once the Berkeley City Council understood the proposal and that there was wide support for it in the community, they voted unanimously in its favor, declaring October 12th to be commemorated annually as "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People."

The Council also declared 1992 the Year of Indigenous People (also proposed by Native groups to the U. N., who ultimately gave them 1993 instead), and supported a series of ideas for its implementation in the schools, libraries, museums, arts, and the University.

Finally the City approved the Task Force's proposal to replace the old broken fountain in the park behind City Hall with a new fountain designed as this country's first monument dedicated to Indigenous Peoples. This fountain, known as the Turtle Island Monument, designed by Lee Sprague, Potawatomi, has a life of its own , and the City of Berkeley is currently finalizing plans for its construction, which will include a time capsule buried beneath it containing messages from today's Native peoples, to be opened by the Seventh Generation.

Other municipalities have followed Berkeley's lead, have dropped Columbus Day and have begun to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day instead, including Sebastopol and Santa Cruz, CA. The State of South Dakota, in a related move, also dropped Columbus Day and replaced it with Native American Day.

At first there was some outrage from the large San Francisco Italian-American community, which always came together for an annual Columbus Day parade and reenactment, so felt attacked. But on quiet evaluation of the historical record, the leaders of the Italian-American community decided that Columbus was no hero of theirs either, so requested that the City of San Francisco drop Columbus Day like Berkeley did. However, San Francisco replaced it with Italian-American Day, which is how it is celebrated there today.

Meanwhile, at the request of the world's Indigenous groups and led by Nobel Prize winner Rigoberta Menchú, the United Nations declared the International Day of Solidarity with Indigenous Peoples, and declared the International Decade of the World's Indigenous People (1995-2005), to address the human rights of the estimated 300 million Native Peoples in more than 70 countries, and to cultivate a partnership between Indigenous Peoples and the international community. But instead of changing Columbus Day, which was seen as too threatening to some governments, the U.N. declared a different day as Indigenous Peoples Day, August 9th.

Holiday not celebrated by Native American tribes

For many, the second Monday in October is known as Columbus Day, a holiday that is often observed by residents making a trip to the post office only to find it closed.

It's not just those needing to send an urgent letter not thrilled with the holiday being officially sanctioned by state and federal governments, some American Indians see it as a reminder of the harsh treatment of their ancestors at the hands of Europeans.

While attitudes about the holiday among American Indians differ, most agree that Columbus Day is not a holiday that reflects the point of view of American Indians.

On Columbus Day, the Cherokee and Creek nations' tribal offices remain open and the day is not observed, while the Osage Nation's and United Keetoowah Band's tribal offices close, but refer to the holiday as Osage Day and Native American Day, respectively.

"Because it's a federal holiday and federal offices are closed anyway, it's the thought of exercising a little tribal sovereignty over what we have a little control over," said Osage Nation Chief Jim Gray. "Indian Country has mixed issues about who discovered whom, and if this is a celebration of who discovered the New World, those of us who had ancestors here before Columbus certainly might be allowed to have a different point of view about the whole thing." Read more here....

Columbus Day Disregards American Indians' Struggles


It's that time of year again when America celebrates its origins with the recognition of Columbus Day, and if you grew up in the mainstream, you probably don't think twice about it. But if you grew up as an American Indian, you do, especially if you know your history. That history tells a much different story than the usual one of a benign explorer who "discovered" a new world, one that would ultimately present vast expanses of uninhabited land for the taking of European settlers seeking liberation from religions and economic persecution. For Indian people, Columbus Day is a day of mourning, a reminder of incalculable loss and unspeakable pain. As Native students here at UNM, we take a stand to reframe this dark day, choosing instead empowerment and a celebration of survival and cultural renewal, and we reclaim it as
Indigenous Day.

As we celebrate our heritage, we also acknowledge that our struggles have never ended. We continue to resist modern colonial efforts to undermine our cultures, our lands and resources, which are threatened continually. We struggle to assert our worldview in a dominant culture, which regularly discredits and attempts to delegitimize our often very different way of thinking and living. Yet we know we have something to say that the world desperately needs to hear, and we cannot be silent. The spirits of our ancestors beat in our hearts and advance unseen upon the land, and honor them we must. It is for them and the ones who yet are to come that we carry on.

Please join us today for our Indigenous Day Celebration sponsored by the Native American Studies Indigenous Research Group and Kiva Club. Festivities begin with a sunrise ceremony on Johnson Field at 6:45 a.m., a breakfast potluck at 9 a.m. at Native American Studies in Mesa Vista Hall, Indigenous theater and poster presentations in the SUB from noon to 1 p.m., a poetry slam in the SUB at 1 p.m., Aztec dancers on Smith Plaza at 2 p.m. and a film festival in Zimmerman at 3 p.m. Share with us the beauty and intelligence of Native America.

Dina Gilio
UNM student

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samiii st.paul alberta said...

yah feel the power!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

Gerundive said...

Personally, I'm all for the idea of replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day--"indigenous" peoples "discovered" this paradise long, long before Cristóbal Colón led his band of murderous thugs ashore, and immediately set out to turn the paradise into hell on earth for those who were already here. So if our purpose is to set aside a date to honor the discoverers of America, we're going to have to look much further back in time!

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