I note that some people, rightly distressed at the whitewashing of Christopher Columbus’ horrendous legacy, have taken up a cartoonists’ suggestion to better honor indigenous people by renaming the day after another European colonizer.
I recognize the importance of Bartolomé De Las Casas’ writing in sparking awareness of the human rights of native people. But the suggestion that we simply swap in a kinder, gentler colonizer to assuage white people’s guilt is a further act of erasure of the Native people who are still here.
Indigenous People’s Day has been a living alternative to Columbus Day for more than two decades, created by Native people and shaped by local groups of Native people to celebrate, illuminate, and preserve their own cultures. It’s celebrated officially, sometimes under different names, by localities as diverse as Berkeley, California and the state of South Dakota.
This new idea that we rename Columbus Day “Bartolomé Day,” if it ever transcends Internet Fad status, may allow white people to feel like they’ve done something to make their ongoing occupation of stolen land less of a problem. But what it will actually do is kick Native people out to the margins once again, taking away the little bit of three-dimensionality Indigenous People’s Day and other initiatives like it have generated in the non-Native public consciousness and casting Native people once again as the Object that has been Done To, with a European as the hero.
Columbus sought to extract gold from the bodies of the Native people he enslaved and killed. Bartolomé Day would amend that slightly, so that people living 521 years later might extract a feeling of redemption from those same bodies. And never mind the Native people who still walk upright.
Today is Indigenous People’s Day. One day out of 365, and still we’d dispossess Native people of it. For some reason I can’t quite put my finger on, that sounds familiar.
[Edited to add: It’s Indigenous People’s Month again in 2014, and this post is getting lots of traffic from Facebook. If you’re a visitor tempted to accuse me or commenters here of “blaming white people” or “looking for offense” or some other Fox News inspired crap, save your energy. Your comment won’t see the light of day. Otherwise, feel free to add to the discussion but read the site’s comment policy first. Thanks.]