I can honestly say that for most of my life I have given no thought at all to Columbus Day. Similar to
President’s Day, Memorial Day, and Labor Day I think of the holiday in terms of mattresses going on sale and hopefully getting a day off of school.
Recently I have embarked on a new season of learning. I have begun a Master’s in Intercultural Studies. The program is in partnership with George Fox seminary- but run by NAIITS– the North American Institute for Indigenous Theological Studies. So the program is taught by all Native American/Indigenous Christian professors, and many of my classmates are Native and Indigenous people.
I am a newbie to this world. I have only taken a couple classes, attended one conference, and just begun to learn about smudging, sweat lodges, and indigenous spirituality and worldview. So what I offer is purely 101, or maybe even less than 101. I’m offering the pre-req’s before 101. Here are a few lessons that I have been learning as I have entered into this new community.
Not all Indians are dead.
Kind of an abrupt statement. But I have learned that for someone like me, educated from the perspective of the dominant culture- the narrative is that Native Americans are a part of our history. Something along the lines of “It’s kind of sad what happened- but that was a long time ago. All the Indians died and we don’t need to really worry about them today.” We are taught to think of Native Americans as part of our past, not our present. This is part of how we reconcile ourselves with our colonial, genocidal, and racist history- we think of it as something that was perpetrated a long time ago by other people, not something that we need to be affected by today. Real, living, non-historical Native Americans, are troubling to this comforting worldview. My comforting worldview.
Everyday is talk about Colonialism Day
When I am in predominantly African American contexts or with activist minded POC, we talk about race all the time. We talk about systemic injustice all the time. We talk about what is bothering us about our churches, organizations, cities, and white friends- ALL THE TIME. We process the stress and dissonance of our racialized experience ALL THE TIME. It’s just normal. It’s just talking. But when white, and some Asian American folks, get around this they experience dissonance. It seems extreme, like we are making everything very racial. It has to be a special occasion (usually a crisis) for most white and Asian American people to talk about race.
Well I experienced this dissonance as I entered into my NAIITS context. Talking about colonialism and settler colonial issues is not special occasion talk in my new circle. It is everyday talk. I called something a hoe-down- which is part of my charming and whimsical slang, and got told, causally over lunch, that it was very colonial of me. I had to laugh at myself. When is the last time someone casually called me colonial!?!
At the NAIITS conference the Indigenous people introduce themselves by their tribe and geography, and everyone else introduces themselves by name and as a settler. I’m a settler!!! Ha- no free pass cause I’m a WOC. I have to own my identity as a settler on this land. Not just on special occasions, but everyday. It’s just normal talk. It seemed so militant at first. I was no accustomed to having this as a normal lens on life. But it would be weird to say to my Native American classmates and teachers- “Why do you keep referencing this totally normal part of your daily experience and worldview? It’s not something I usually talk about, so lets stop.” That would be ridiculous. Now after a short time, talking about how colonial I am, is as normal as talking about my next hair color.
So here we are at Columbus Day 2015. Most of us know that Columbus did not in fact “discover” this land. And we have become aware, to varying degrees, that he was a raping, pillaging, enslaving, violent man. Read this biography of the man for a helpful history of his life and the holiday. But what can be done and who wants to expend any real effort? Well, Native Americans have been expending effort to end Columbus Day as a holiday for a long time- since 1954 in my hometown of Portland.
So my application of my 101 lessons is to proactively support the trend of cities changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day. I know that many people will write off this change as politically correct and irrelevant. I disagree. It matters. It matters who we want to honor in our history. It matters that we are willing to even think about our history and our present. And it matters that we begin to bear the fruit of repentance in any way we can. So if Indigenous people are lobbying for this change- why wouldn’t we listen to them?
I for one will pay attention to October 12th for the first time in my life. And I will celebrate Indigenous people and their presence. I will continue to try and learn from them. I will urge my community of friends to honor actual real Native American leaders and stop using them as costumes, mascots, and festival gear.
Do you want to listen to some North American Indigenous voices to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day? Don’t just turn to history, listen to contemporary voices. Here are a few interesting options.
Unexpectedly, MTV took an episode of its Rebel Music series to feature several next generation Indigenous artist. Here is a write up on the mic about several artists they are featuring. And below is the episode. Absolutely worth the 30 minutes.
Here are some additional resources, mostly Christian Indigenous perspectives.
Rescuing the Gospel from the Cowboys by Richard Twiss
Shalom and the Community of Creation by Randy Woodley
God is Red by Vine Deloris Jr.
Singer Cheryl Bear’s music
Band Broken Walls
Here is a list of cities from www.usuncut.com that have changed Columbus Day to Indigenous people’s day.
- Albuquerque, New Mexico – The city’s formal declaration”encourages businesses, organizations and public entities to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day, which shall be used to reflect upon the ongoing struggles of Indigenous people on this land, and to celebrate the thriving culture and value that our Indigenous nations add to our City.”
- Lawrence, KS– Since September, students from Haskell University in Lawrence, Kansas have been taking initiative and pushing for the city to honor their ancestors by declaring October 12th Indigenous Peoples’ day. Just this Wednesday, they won.
- Portland, OR– Portland’s City Council declared Indigenous Peoples’ day on Tuesday, something tribal leaders have been seeking since 1954.
- Paul, MN– In August, St. Paul followed Minneapolis by declaring Indigenous Peoples’ Day instead of Columbus Day. Minneapolis passed its own resolution last year.
- Bexar County, TX– The resolution was passed Tuesday, and local activists intend to press for the same thing in San Antonio.
- Anadarko, OK– In September, Anadarko declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Anadarko Mayor Kyle Eastwood signed the proclamation while surrounded by tribal leaders from the Apache, Choctaw, Delaware, Wichita and others.
- Olympia, WA– Mayor Pro Tem Nathaniel Jones presented Olympia’s proclamation at a rally in August. Nearly 150 people showed up to support the initiative.
- Alpena, MI– In September, Mayor Matt Waligora declared Indigenous Peoples’ Day. The city says they desire “to develop a strong and productive relationship with all indigenous peoples, including the Saginaw Chippewa Tribe, based on mutual respect and trust.”
These cities are following in the footsteps of Seattle and Minneapolis. Meanwhile, Oklahoma City came close to passing it in September and will try to pass it again on October 13th, the day after the holiday.
Happy Indigenous People’s Day!