Reconsider Columbus. Honor Indigenous People’s Day

Our words carry medicine.  We use our words to pray for our children.  We use our words to heal.  We use our words to uplift and inspire. Our words, though, can carry poison as well.  Observing a holiday in honor of Christopher Columbus perpetuates and exploits ignorance. It hurts Native Americans by reinforcing our absence from our national consciousness and celebrating our genocide and it hurts non-Native’s by reinforcing the arrival of a European as a more impressive story than the indigenous story of survival, stewardship and sovereignty. 

We know that the “Columbus consciousness” has left a deep impression on us because we did a brief survey underneath the shadow of the infamous Columbus Circle relic in New York City. With a crew of Natives, we asked over 100 New Yorkers to identify the “origin” of our Native models to understand where contemporary Native lives exist in popular consciousness.

 If Columbus had his way, we’d all be dead.  But indigenous erasure from national consciousness has a similar effect.  When we celebrate Columbus, we celebrate the beginning of our erasure. The continued celebration of Columbus continues to silence us, continues to render us invisible and extinct.

The indigenous story is more accurate, and it’s a story that we all deserve to hear. Let us begin to write and speak a healing narrative that honors Native people, lets get to know each other, lets hug each other- you can and should #huganative today. Thank your Native brothers and sisters for welcoming you to their land. Today, Indigenous People’s Day, is a good day for that.

Here are living breathing awesome Native people (photographed for Project 562) that we think you might want to know instead, and if you see them, offer them a hug.

This gorgeous photo is of former Vice-Chair Woman for the Tulalip tribe (Washington) Deborah Parker and her daughter Kayah George, both prominent advocates for tribal women’s rights and well being.

Meet my Swinomish (Washington) family: Chase, Mama Nancy, Tandy and Tanner Wilbur in front of our family boat, the TW Legacy.  We fish the Pacific Northwest coastal waters for salmon, geoducks, Dungeness crabs, and shrimp, exercising our Treaty of Point Elliot sovereignty as well as the fishing and gaming rights of the 1974 Judge Boldt Decision.

Here’s the fabulous Crow (Montana) designer Bethany Yellowtail, an incredibly talented and original fashion designer based in Los Angeles.  Bethany draws from haute couture and the aesthetics of her traditional Crow roots in her dope and extraordinarily successful fashion line, B.Yellowtail, all of which is manufactured in the U.S. as part of her commitment to local empowerment.

This is Laura Red Elk, one of the “Navajo Walkers” opposed to fracking on Navajo Nation (Arizona); you can learn more about their inspiring activism elsewhere on the Project 562 blog.

This wonderful gentleman is Grandpa Paul Ortega, an amazing Mescalero Apache musician (New Mexico) who created a sound that revolutionized the Native American music scene.  A venerated medicine man, Ortega gracefully fused Native American healing traditions with beguiling guitar chords, the deep power of the bass drum, and a mournful harmonica. 

Dr. Adrienne Keene from Eastern Band of Cherokee, one of my dearest friends and idols, writes eloquently about Columbus Day on her own blog Native Appropriations:

“So why do I share all these stories? Because this is the Indian Country I know. These are the survivors, the anomalies, the surprises on earth. This is the progress that we represent. The side effect of the narrative of Columbus Day is an erasure of our existence back then, and an erasure of our contemporary existence now. The Americas existed before 1492, and despite the best efforts of colonization, we continue to exist, we continue to resist, and we continue to thrive. These snapshots offer just a fraction of my Native friends and colleagues, and an even smaller sliver of all of the amazing people that make up Native America. We are still here, and we’re not all sitting around in Tipi’s, wearing feathered headdresses, or speaking in broken “Tonto speak.” We are able to combine western education and traditional culture as a means to move our communities forward. When Columbus landed on the shores of the Bahamas over 520 years ago, he started a legacy of genocide that nearly wiped the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas off the planet. We weren’t supposed to survive, but here we are. These young Native leaders are bringing Indigenous perspectives, innovations, and ways of knowing to science, technology, business, law, education, arts, and more, and this is something to celebrate. So today, instead of celebrating a murdering “explorer”–I choose to celebrate Indigenous Peoples.”