I’d like to suggest that instead of honoring Christopher Columbus on this day in October, we make this a national holiday in honor of the indigenous peoples of North America.
It is shameful that we have no national day of recognition for the native tribes who were here to welcome the first European explorers. Perhaps this is no innocent oversight; if there was a day of recognition, we’d have to confront the ugly truth of what those Europeans did to the Native Americans–from smallpox to displacement, massacres and enslavement.
Still, that bloodstained history lurks beneath the surface of national holidays like Columbus Day and Thanksgiving. It would be better to look squarely at the truth and do something to atone for it–at minimum, honoring the native ancestors of this land, and their contemporary descendants, who continue to struggle and resist the tsunami of Euramerican industrial civilization.
For an idea of what that struggle looks like today, check out the Honor the Earth website. Honor the Earth works “to address the two primary needs of the Native environmental movement: the need to break the geographic and political isolation of Native communities and the need to increase financial resources for organizing and change.” It was founded in 1993 by native rights and environmental activist Winona LaDuke and the Indigo Girls.
In honoring the Native peoples of the United States instead of the European explorer who accelerated the invasion of their territories and the assault upon their cultures, we would be honoring the amazing resilience and wisdom of these ancient tribes, who have withstood the onslaught of European culture with incredible strength, courage and dignity.
We contemporary Americans are standing at a turning point in history where we may be able to get away from the destructive mode of domination represented by Columbus and a host of European explorers after him.
Changing Columbus Day to Native American Day (or perhaps selecting one significant representative Native person from history–I would not presume to suggest a single figure, but there are many to choose from) would be a good start at not only atoning for the bloody history of European-Native encounters, but also moving more harmoniously into the future.