The calendar on my iPhone now has two holidays listed on the same day.
Monday, Oct. 11 is both Columbus Day and Indigenous Peoples’ Day. I choose not to celebrate the former for his attempted genocide of the latter.
I’m bursting awkward silence conversation bubbles and any attempt to bubble wrap the sharp and pointy fact that Columbus and his crew did more than “sail the ocean blue.” The truth hurts and we must address it.
These Band-Aid holidays don’t cover it, especially when thousands of murdered Indigenous children are buried under residential schools in the U.S. and Canada.
We clearly have not dug deep enough but are only scratching the surface of the issues of assimilation, colonization and the churches that did both in the name of Jesus. There’s blood on somebody’s hands and dirt on their shoes.
Who killed these children? Who lied to their parents and told them that they weren’t missing? Who decided not to take the complaints seriously? Who filed the parents’ statements away in an attempt to make the crime a distant memory?
I want to know their names. Because they should go down in history and in history books as murderers — like Christopher Columbus.
We can’t just cover this up, but we’ve got to open this up.
Consider this my gift to you. Since we are celebrating, parading around in American cultural mythology, there are also thousands of Indigenous women who have been murdered and are missing.
Duane Garvais-Lawrence is literally running around the country to bring attention to these crimes. Say their names and lament the fact that the murder of Indigenous people continues.
Consequently, I celebrate the tribes, cultures and tongues represented by the Indigenous people of the United States. I rejoice that they are still here in spite of Christopher Columbus and the European settlers that came after him.
I am grateful for these sacred teachers, earth-healers and community-builders. An estimated 2.5 to 6 million Indigenous people are still here though systematically dispossessed.
The American government has yet to return the land stolen from them. Rep. Deb Haaland (D-New Mexico), Interior secretary under the Biden Administration, could make good on America’s promises.
Since it has not, the Indigenous people of the U.S. are more likely to experience poverty than any other group. So, let’s not lie to ourselves today because we’ve got so much work to do.
Let’s not lie to our children either and choose again a narrative of denial. I can’t help but remember when I was first lied to.
In Fourteen Hundred Ninety-two
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
He had three ships and left from Spain;
He sailed through sunshine, wind and rain.
I was taught the opening of this poem as a second grader. It was likely used to teach American history, promote literacy and teach poetry, and it was labeled a fun activity.
We sat on a rug, all gathered around the teacher to listen to the story of Christopher Columbus.
To ensure that mouths as well as bodies were quiet, we were told to sit “Indian style.” How ironic. It meant to sit with our legs criss-crossed with our feet folded under each knee, kind of like a pretzel.
In most American classrooms, the inappropriate descriptor is no longer used and has been replaced with “criss-cross applesauce.” Because naming things after marginalized and minoritized people groups without their expressed permission has a long and terrible history.
So does renaming people. The 1492 poem taught to me includes this verse:
‘Indians! Indians!’ Columbus cried;
His heart was filled with joyful pride.
But ‘India’ the land was not;
It was the Bahamas, and it was hot.
Columbus was wrong about where he landed and about the Taíno people he encountered. Because Indians are from India.
Clearly, he wasn’t there to make friends. Who they were made no difference to him because Columbus kidnapped several Taíno people before leaving.
But this wasn’t a part of the poem or the history lesson that followed. We made miniature ships, representing the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, out of construction paper while my teacher sailed right past some very disturbing facts.
She taught me a lie that came with crayons, coloring sheets and craft activities. We built upon the lie and were invited to imagine ourselves as explorers of a non-existent “new world.”
The voices of indigenous people were muted to make it sound better.
But Dana H. Hall rewrote the poem, which rings true and sounds better. She begins,
In Fourteen Hundred and Ninety-Two,
Columbus sailed the ocean blue.
But everything else in the childhood rhyme,
Ignores the historic details and genocide.
Designated holidays don’t change the truth and neither does a childhood rhyme. Lying about history is wrong every day of the week.