Sunday, October 18, 2009

The Enduring Legacy of Columbus

Recently, on a forum I frequent, I posted a link to the article, The Myth of "America". I thought it would allow a civil debate about the controversial federal holiday, Columbus Day. Unfortunately, some people couldn't stay focused on the topic of whether we should have a holiday honoring Columbus. Instead, they tried to change the topic and say all mistreatment of Indians happened hundreds of years ago and that we, Indians, were just wanting a pity party. My friend posted the following response. He points out the things that have happened to Indians in recent years. Things that are often overlooked or forgotten by people today.


This is not a pity party or a contest to say we suffered more than you. This is about acknowledging what happened in the past and what is still happening today. Whenever we speak of the Indian past, too many people stick their fingers in their ears and refuse to hear it.

Did Indians fight each other and have slavery? Certainly, just as Europeans had been fighting each other and enslaving each other for centuries. Nobody is debating that Indians lived in an ideal or perfect world, that is a stereotype. However, though Indians participated in these things, they were not violent savages as is often portrayed, just as Europeans were not. Some tribes practiced slavery, but many didn't. Also, the conditions of that slavery are much different from the slavery performed in what became the U.S. Indian slavery was often temporary, and the condition of slavery was not inherited. Also, warfare was conducted on a much smaller scale, partly due to the lack of the killing technology that old world peoples possessed (guns, cannons, etc.), but the desire for such widespread warfare was not present.

The Indian's ability for peace has also been ignored. The Iroquois nations used to fight with each other constantly. Leaders such as Deganawidah helped form the Great League of Peace, which held for centuries. In the Great Peace of 1840, Comanche, Cheyenne, Arapahoe, Kiowa, and many other peoples formed a lasting peace on the Great Plains. Many Indian tribes allied themselves with Europeans. The Delaware allied with the Americans during the Revolutionary War, after the war, the Delaware were removed from their lands. Some Indians fought with each other but they were not the bloodthirsty savages often portrayed.

Another problem is that the legacy of Columbus is still with us today. So many want to argue that the foul treatment of Indians was in some ancient past, but that is just not true. Many of us are directly effected today.

Indian boarding schools operated at least into the 1960s, where people were literally beaten and belittled for practicing their culture or speaking their native language.

Until the American Indian Religious Freedom Act of 1978, many Indian peoples barred by law from practicing many of their religious ceremonies.

Until the Indian Child Welfare Act of 1978, Indian children could be removed from their homes basically at will. Before then, 25-35% of all Indian children were removed from their homes by forced and put into foster homes, where they lost contact with their families and lost their culture.

Until the Native American Graves Protection and Repatriation Act of 1990, Anthropologists and Archaeologists could literally dig up the graves of our family members under the guise of science. I'm not talking about remains that were hundreds of years old. Even people who died in the 20th century were dug up and their remains desecrated for science.

Poverty, unemployment and health problems continue to plague Indian people. Even before the current economic crisis, some reservations had up to 85% unemployment. For residents of the Pine Ridge Reservation today, the life expectancy is less than 50.

This is not the ancient past, the legacy of Columbus is still alive and well today within our lifetimes. What I mentioned above is just the tip of the iceberg of what Indians have dealt with just within the 20th century.

This is not about a pity party. Indians want to and are helping themselves. However, when people try to pretend these things are not happening, it just makes our job harder. If people would understand the enduring legacy of Columbus, that would help us in our struggle.


In my opinion, my friend "hit a grand slam" with that post. In a few clear, concise words, he summed up many of the issues American Indians have had to deal with in these times. Hopefully those words will help educate others about the plight of us today. We can't change what happened in the past, but by learning the truth our history, we can make the future better for us all.

Those are my thoughts for the day.
Thank you for listening.

The Granddaughter

(***Posted with the permission of Jimmy.)
copyright 2009, Polly's Granddaughter - TCB

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