The International Day of the World’s Indigenous Peoples is celebrated globally on August 9. Its purpose is to raise awareness and protect the rights of the world's indigenous population, and to recognize and honor the achievements and contributions they make to improve world issues such as environmental protection. This international day was pronounced by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1994.
In the United States, we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day on the second Monday of October to honor the cultures and histories of the Native American people. Indigenous Peoples Day began as an official holiday in 1992. Before that, October 12 was Columbus Day.
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Image Credit: John Beach, Flickr aljazeera.com/celebrating-indigenous-peoples-day/
EVERYTHING HAS A PAST
The events of the past, by-the-way, ought to be history. Sadly, the old saying that the winner writes the history books is essentially true. The other side of the story, officially, is swept under the rug, forgotten by everyone except those on the other side of the story.
First, President Benjamin Harrison first proclaimed a national Columbus Day in 1892 to celebrate the 400th anniversary of Italian-born explorer Christopher Columbus’s discovery of the Western Hemisphere, the New World. The action also helped Harrison resolve a crisis with Italy after New Orleans rioters lynched eleven Italian immigrants the prior year.
Second, no one can really say specifically when the movement to create an Indigenous People’s Day began. Undoubtedly, the idea had been brewing for a long time. For the Native Americans, Columbus Day was always hurtful as it glorified the past 500 years of violence, colonial torture and oppression, and drew attention to the pain, trauma, and broken promises.
During the 1970s, the American Indians were inspired by the civil rights movement to stage various protests to air their grievances against the unjust policies of the Federal Government and the negative impacts on the Native American peoples and culture. At one protest in Boston, Native Americans petitioned for Thanksgiving to be replaced by the equivalent of Indigenous People’s Day.
The most infamous event took place in November, 1969, when a group of Native Americans took over the island of Alcatraz, a closed federal prison in the California Bay Area, to stage a protest over discriminatory federal policies. On Thanksgiving day, symbolically, hundreds of activists joined the occupation.
Image Source: historythings.com/the-occupation-of-alcatraz/c/re
In July 1990, at the First Continental Conference on 500 Years of Indian Resistance, held in Ecuador, representatives of indigenous people throughout the Americas agreed that they would use the 500th anniversary of the first of the voyages of Christopher Columbus as a year to promote "continental unity" and "liberation".
Image Source: arbeitskreis-indianer.at/75-jahre-weltgemeinschaft
At about the same time, the recently formed Bay Area Indian Alliance approached the City of Berkeley, CA, asking the City Council to declare October 12 as a "Day of Solidarity with Indigenous People" and 1992 as the "Year of Indigenous People". After Berkeley complied, other local governments and institutions, not only in California but countrywide, began a trend by renaming or canceling Columbus Day, either to celebrate Native American history and cultures, to avoid celebrating Columbus and the European colonization of the Americas, or due to raised controversy over the legacy of Columbus.
Some states celebrate a separate but similar Native American Day. However, this is observed not on Columbus Day but in September.
Image Source: niagarafallsreview.ca/biden-indigenous-peoples-day
Contrary to popular belief and observation, Governments can act faster than ours. In 2021, less than two months after New South Wales state Premier Gladys Berejiklian expressed support for Indigenous Australians who claimed the national anthem did not reflect them and their history, Australia changed one word in its National Anthem to include them.
Image Source: australiangeographic.com.au/queensland/ Image Source: atlantablackstar.com/australian-
Would that the U.S. federal government listened to its people that well … and respond as swiftly.
SHOULD COLUMBUS BE DISENFRANCHISED?
In my opinion, Columbus Day should be celebrated for a variety of reasons and in a variety of ways.
The commemorative day, initially created to celebrate the 400th birthday of Columbus arriving in the Western Hemisphere (and helping out the president with his problem with the Italians), Columbus Day has become, in the United States, a general celebration of the many important contributions of Italian-Americans. And many Italian-Americans rallied when the proposal to do away with Columbus Day was on the line.
Columbus Day does not in any way preclude the celebration of Native Americans as well. Instead, it is intended to recognize the achievements of a great Renaissance explorer.
Image Source: thehistoryjunkie.com/leif-ericson-facts/
In all fairness, people didn’t know about Erickson when I was a kid, but that points out that we are always learning new things that require us, eventually, to maybe not “re-write history”, but to fill in the greater details and gaps with new information and correct things we have learned are wrong. We should fill in the “other side of the story”. If it happened, it ought to be there.
It is true that Columbus never set foot on the North American Continent, but he did in the Caribbean, Cantral and South America. As a navigator and captain, he completed four voyages across the Atlantic Ocean sponsored by the Catholic Monarchs of Spain and opened the way for the widespread European exploration and colonization of the Americas. At that time, his expeditions were the first known European contact with the Caribbean, the Bahamas, Central America, and South America.
What he did was to discover the sea route to the Western Hemisphere (at the time educated Europeans knew the world was not flat) and then explored along much of the coastline. These voyages mark the beginning of recorded history of the Americas in a form that could convey information to a wide spread population.
None of this cancels out, excuses, or make up for any of the terrible things that happened as the result of opening up the Western Hemisphere to Europeans. Those events also happened in reality, many with terrible consequences. We all have to know about them, remember them (as shameful they might be) and evaluate and, hopefully, learn from them. It is the only way humans can avoid the same mistakes in the future.
SO MUCH FOR LEARNING FROM THE PAST
The U.S. government has had quite a few hundred years to learn our mistakes from the treatment of the American Indigenous Peoples, but I don't believe we are catching on very rapidly.
When I was in high school and studied 20th century history, there was never one word mentioned about the Japanese internment camps during WWII. More than half of the people of Japanese heritage (117,000) were American citizens. Many had family members serving in the military in Europe, but still they were taken from their homes and put in prison camps. Their possessions and property taken away and most of it ever returned.
I learned about it, in college, from my Japanese roommates who lived through it and told me about it. My friend Lillian said her family was temporarily housed for several weeks in a horse stall at Santa Anita race track in California, before being shipped to Montana. I was so appalled and disgusted, first by our government having done that, second, not only did the public let it happen, they encouraged it, and third, that the reality of that shameful action was hush-hushed and never taught to Americans students. I'm not sure if it is taught today..
Americans, who even know about it, say this could never happen again. I hope that’s true but I am not so sure.
Credit for Image: Library of Congress, Corvis/ VCG/Getty Images
Source of Images: history.com/world-war-ii/japanese-american-relocation
If our space explorers find little, green Martians already living on the red planet when we get there, I sincerely hope we will not claim the planet as earth’s possession, dismantle the society, and send the Martians off to internment camps on the moon.
JUST SAYIN’ !