No, this is not “Bartolomé Day.”

CSUF Aztec Dancer

CSUF student Veronica Miranda, a member of Toyacan Aztec Dance Troupe from La Puente. The troupe performed on Indigenous People’s Day last year at Cal State Fullerton.

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.]

42 thoughts on “No, this is not “Bartolomé Day.”

  1. Dale Favier

    I had some of this response; but i also have the response that calling it Indigenous People’s Day, as if we actually wanted to set things right and give it all back, can’t convince anyone. We took it and we’re keeping it. But it does make a difference whether we do it Columbus style or de las Casas style.

  2. Dale Favier

    Is it? That would be grand, then. I always think of these “days” as things that get thought up by bored legislative staffers to spin something, but some actually do arise from the people concerned, I guess.

  3. P. Rotz

    Point taken. Well made.

    Another reason not to entertain the notion of a “Bartolme Day” is that his recognition of a degree of common humanity with Native Americans led De Las Casas to advocate for the shipping of Africans to the Americas to fill the labor appetite of the region’s growing plantation economies.

  4. scyllacat

    Thanks for pointing this out. Although I appreciated the education value of Oatmeal’s post, he still manages to have a blind spot about non-white non-men as big as a Mack truck, and the feeling of “swimming in the same water” was strong.

  5. Elle K

    That’s a really great point. Thanks for your perceptive. People tend to think of the Native American genocide as a sad event in the past (if they think about it at all) that has no repercussions on our living, breathing countrymen.

  6. Dale Favier

    What I like about B de Las Casas is that he actually *changed his mind*, more than once. He decided he’d been wrong about the African slaves, too. It takes immense strength of mind to go against the tide of your milieu that way. I always admire that tremendously, especially in people whose social and economic profit would push them towards staying in the mainstream. Washington was like that too: I admire his fumbling attempts to address his own slave-owning far more than Adams’ purity or Jefferson’s outright hypocrisy.

  7. mcKswift

    Now we honor relative hypocrites because they changed their mind about being a religious authority on genocide and slavery? Dale, fuck that.

  8. loismostow

    my family and I are saddened by the fact that every treaty made with the native americans was broken…we are sorry for the genocides and atrocities they suffered and are still enduring ….so happy that they are successful with the casinos……remember success is the best revenge…saw a cartoon with Barbara bush telling a man with a feather bonnet that her ancestors came over on the mayflower ..and the man responded to Barbara by saying ah yes my ancestors were there to greet them….

  9. Caitlin

    I realize las Casas tried. I realize he was behind the New Laws, which were (sort of) better than the old laws. BUT, as anyone who’s read his works can attest (I had to read all of Colón’s works as well as Las Casas’ Brevísima relación — that’s what happens when you do Colonial Latin American lit), Bartolomé de las Casas was himself a racist, sexist jerk. His defense of the indigenous is often cringe-worthy, and he doesn’t really see them as fully functional adult human beings. I see no reason to honor that with its own “day,” and I’d feel much better with Indigenous People’s Day than another day honoring another old dead white guy.

  10. Linda Nicola

    Blacks used the system as they could. They didn’t create it. They didn’t control it. Just as kids kick the dog after their parents beat them, so too, blacks could have abused the lowest on the rung–Natives. Doesn’t excuse them, but its not on the same level.

  11. Chris Clarke Post author

    Sorry Linda, but I deleted the comment to which you were replying. Anyone who can refer to “so-called mistreatment” of racial minorities by white people is too Klannish to be welcome here.

  12. F

    Sorry I missed this post when it was published. I keep thinking we need something more to the point, such as “Settler’s Guilt and Culpability of Their Descendents and Later Immigrants Day”.

    Indigenous Peoples/First Nations should be in the public awareness and accorded their rights and redress every day. Always.

  13. A

    Indigenous People’s Day is a great idea. However, getting rid of ‘whites’, ‘blacks’ and other such labels would also do the world good. Being a Cherokee/Choctaw native in Oklahoma I am well aware of the horrific and sad past that was dealt on Native Americans, yet I don’t go around pointing and saying ‘that white person is just trying to lessen what truly happened to us.’ Instead I think ‘That person is trying to do something positive.’ I’ll admit, I stopped reading this article two paragraphs in because it just kept sounding racist against white people. If we could just forgive the past and leave labels behind and look at each other as fellow human beings the world would be a greater place in the future. I may get flak for this post, but I don’t care. Something needed to be said.

  14. Michael Timothy

    @mcKswift:
    “Now we honor relative hypocrites because they changed their mind”?

    Yes! Of course we do! Because we want the CURRENT bigots to change their minds, so we celebrate the bigots of the past who did so. None of us start out perfect, and the ability to change our minds and recant past wrong beliefs is the only way a society can move forward and improve.

    There are two types of people in any debate:
    -Those who use the arguments, facts, and claims of their opponent(s) to try to leave the discussion more correct than when they started, and
    -Those who debate to prove how right they already were.

    People who change their mind are in the first group and, right or wrong, are the kind of people that will create a better society, whereas people in the second group, whether right or wrong, are useless and incidental to any real progress or enlightenment.

  15. Kyle Johnson

    You might note that the author of the comic book also advocates renaming the day ‘Indigenous Peoples Day’ and highly praises Seattle for doing so. The author knows full well that his ‘suggestion’ of changing the name to ‘Bartolome Day’ is far-fetched. The cartoon and the suggestion is hyperbole, a rhetorical device to draw attention to the real issue of the white-washing of Columbus’ genocidal acts. What’s more this setting-up of one more ‘enlightened’ figure against another is in keeping with the author’s style – see also Edison vs Tesla.

  16. malloryrex

    Thank you for this. I had the same thoughts when I read that cartoonists’ piece. How do we rectify the past atrocities? I’m honestly asking this question. I am a white female and am saddened and sickened by what my ancestors have done, and struggle with how to move forward. Is this something I stay out of because I am not Native? I don’t want to be seen as the token white girl trying to apologize for horrific murders and treatment of humans, but I have seen many instances in which white people have tried to fully understand and have tried to reconcile and they are shot down by Native communities. Where do we go from here?

  17. dcart6

    Somewhat to his credit, the cartoonist is very happy about Seattle’s vote to make the holiday Indigenous Peoples Day.

  18. MFS

    I realize I need to check my white privilege here – but I would humbly suggest that minds are changed incrementally not radically overnight. So in that way I think The Oatmeal has some merit. Not sure about naming a Day after Bartolome but as the Oatmeal suggests, shining a light on those who formally identified with the Oppressor and changed their ways is a good start. This can serve as an inspiration to others to change their mind.

  19. Apasserby

    Changing the name of Columbus day It has nothing to with white guilt. I find it strange that acknowledging the gross murderous acts of a half a century year old Spaniard would cause some people to get defensive. No one is attacking anyone else’s race here. It does, however, have everything to do with changing the fact that there is an American holiday that overlooks everything horrible and wrong that this man did and stood for, and brands him a hero. He is not. It’s that simple. Why don’t we change it? because it’s holiday is a tradition? Is that a good enough reason? You tell me.

  20. John Carlock

    As a Canadian ex-pat in America, I usually have Thanksgiving to celebrate instead of Columbus day, but I think I’m going to start celebrating Indigenous People’s day.

  21. Liz

    This is not “white people” trying to assuage their guilt. This is “white people”, saying they refuse to idolize someone who committed mass genocide of people and cultures, as he is idolized in many schools.
    It’s just saying if you’re going to idolize someone with a holiday, make the person at least a little worthy of it.

  22. Jake Arduino

    From Siddhartha Gautama to Francis of Assisi, we already honor those who start off terrible and change their ways because they are a symbol of hope in a world that desperately needs it.

  23. Shaun Peña

    I think the only reason the suggestion is actually being taken so seriously is because the blog is well known. Although I don’t disagree with the points here, I feel that the attitude attached is cynical to the point of counter-productiveness.

  24. Denise Ford

    What matters here is that the truth cames out about Columbus and people make up their own minds. If there were not a Columbus Day this might not have been spoken about. I couldn’t care less about whether or not we have Columbus Day. It is part of our painful history.

  25. Brian Weiss

    I’m sorry, but I disagree; continuing to celebrate “Columbus day” isn’t a way of reminding people of the horrors this man caused, because the vast majority of people have no idea. Changing the day to Bartolomé day, or getting rid of it all together would be vastly more respectful to the indigenous people who have to put up with this shit every year (Not to mention the Black community who also suffered because of this asshole.)

    It’s on par with celebrating a Joseph Stalin day to commemorate for our Russian immigrants, how he rebuilt the Soviet Union after the destruction of World War 2, while completely ignoring the millions upon millions of people he killed.

    I’m sticking with changing it to Bartolomé de las Casas Day.

    “led De Las Casas to advocate for the shipping of Africans to the Americas to fill the labor appetite of the region’s growing plantation economies.”

    Which (less than seven years later) he also abandoned and started fighting for the civil rights of /all/ men. He was absolutely not perfect, and his early treatment of Africans is a primary example, but unlike Columbus, he came to understand that his actions were wrong, and did what he could to fix them.

  26. Luis

    Mr. Clarke, with all due respect, your reference to “colonizer” leaves out one important fact, there were indigenous people who were allies with the Spanish during the Conquest. My family of origin was in direct conflict with the Aztecs. Now you can continue to write and speak from your place of privilege, however, what is evident that we continue to have people in privilege continue the narratives of our people.

  27. Michael

    I’m guilty of proffering “Bartolomé Day” two years in a row now, but after reading this article I’ll be recanting my Facebook posts and reorienting my support to Indigenous People’s Day. Thank you for writing this!

  28. morganne

    While I know that there is some impact in having a day that remembers things, for the most part as an adult it tends to pass me by with absolutely no recognition beyond, “Are schools out today?” Isn’t the larger issue what is still being taught in schools and the fact that the day is used as a tool by teachers to perpetuate the lies about CC’s heroism? I’m white as such (though I’m on the page with the other Please can we dispense with labels already and just be people? group) and although i have privilege from not being a racial minority, I was really freakin’ pissed off when I realized how consistently my peers and I were lied to in the name of “nationalism” and “status quo” instead of this teeny tiny not really important concept called TRUTH. /sarcasm

    I am still pissed off and feel betrayed when I find out some previously unknown to me whitewashed bullshit. When I am given a version of reality and told it is true I would like that to be as objective and close to true as possible, not some version some old white guys wish it were. And I have a son in third grade and an infant daughter. I certainly want better for them than the sick feeling of realizing that authorities you trusted with the blindness of youth were intentionally or ignorantly shovelling lies into your brain. Certainly we as parents will be monitoring what they learn to correct where we can….but is it so much to ask to want schools to teach facts and not propaganda? About the only field of study I actually trust is math. Even if they have screwy examples in the word problems, the concepts of problem solving and arithmetic are at least true. Gah.

    /rant

    Note: I am totally in favor of Indigenous People’s Day. I had not even heard of it until reading this. Of course since I live in the South, this is not a shock…change drips slow as molasses here….especially change that promotes treating and respecting people like, well, people….