Why Indigenous People’s Day Instead of Columbus Day?

11 October 2016 by , No Comments

indigenous-peoples-day-celebrationIn most of the United States, Monday was Columbus Day, celebrating the arrival of Christopher Columbus in the new world. But in Seattle (where I live) and in a growing number of places around the U.S., Columbus Day is being replaced with Indigenous People’s Day.

It’s about fricking time.

Why, you might ask? After all, Columbus did sail across the Atlantic (no easy feat 500 years ago) and discovered the New World. Isn’t that worth celebrating? Why do I have to be so “politically correct” and call it something else?

Leaving aside the question of how you can “discover” a world already filled with tens of millions of people, the idea of celebrating the man who brought death and disease to millions of American Indians always seemed pretty reprehensible to me. Sure, most Americans are vaguely aware that we brought some diseases and took a lot of land from the people who were living here first (talk about illegal immigration). But for 99% of us, we are profoundly ignorant of our own country’s past actions and we’ve never actually faced the devastation our presence has wrought, either in the past or how it still impacts millions of American Indians today. (Canada is showing us what we should be doing.)

That’s one of the reasons my first two books — Man & Beast and Man & Monster — have included American Indian characters as well as trying to do some education about what sort of devastation the colonization of the Americas caused and is still causing.

In Man & Beast, Gwennie, a Delaware Indian woman recounts the Gnadenhutten Massacre, the slaughter in 1792 of nearly a hundred Christian Indians. That’s right, they were Christian and they still got massacred as payback for something done by an entirely different group of American Indians (who were fighting to keep their land).

Odds are you’ve never heard of Gnadenhutten. Why would you? American history textbooks have long glossed over atrocities like this, or have only touched on them very briefly. Pretty much like every other atrocity committed by the people we celebrate as having brought about Manifest Destiny.

I’d argue this isn’t being politically correct. It’s just being correct.

And it is why we need Indigenous People’s Day.

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