A Position Statement on “Indigenous Peoples Day”

posted Jan 11, 2017, 7:07 PM by John Norwood
From the Alliance of Colonial Era Tribes

Indigenous Peoples Day is being promoted by many people of conscience as an alternative celebration to Columbus Day. There has been an increased awareness and sensitivity to the atrocities committed by Columbus and others during the so-called “age of discovery.” Many American Indian tribes and tribal people reject the celebration of Columbus as the discoverer of the Americas, given that indigenous civilizations thrived across Turtle Island for millennia prior to his arrival. Columbus presided over the inhumane treatment of tribal people and territorial theft of tribal lands. Moreover, the doctrine associated with European “discovery” of non-European people has served as the foundation for the continuing oppressive impact of colonization. Many tribal people are confused and offended as to how Christopher Columbus is presented as a hero while Adolph Hitler is accepted as a villain, when both initiated and participated in crimes against humanity and instigated genocide.

While we applaud the awakening of the conscience of some across the United States in regard to this issue, we approach the establishment of Indigenous Peoples Day with some caution. While celebrating the cultural heritage of the many indigenous peoples of the hemisphere is a worthy initiative, the danger is that the history and continuing issues of our people may come into focus for a day and then go out of focus for the rest of the year in the minds of the general public. This concern also includes celebrating our people, nations, and culture only in the “past tense,” while ignoring the continuing heritage of the many of us who still remain. While a heightened awareness and celebration of indigenous people and culture on a single day is a good thing, it is much more important that an effort be made to educate about the true history, ongoing challenges and struggles of the original people of the Americas. The catharsis of a single day celebration could lead some to erroneously believe that enough has been done to correct the atrocities of over half of a millennia… or that an apology and commemorative annual day is an adequate replacement for the establishment of justice.

Acknowledging that Christopher Columbus should not be viewed as a hero and teaching the truth of his arrival and activities in the Americas is long overdue. An annual Indigenous Peoples Day can also aid in overturning misconceptions, stereotypes, and miseducation that perpetuate the mistreatment of the indigenous peoples of Turtle Island – if it is well thought out and well planned. Or, it could promote the very errors and behaviors which continue to do harm to indigenous people.

Whether an annual Indigenous Peoples Day is established locally or nationally, it is vital that communities learn about the indigenous heritage of their areas and gain understanding of tribal nations and peoples that have continued there. Learning the truth of that history, and the current realities of such continuing historic tribal communities, is far more crucial to respectful interaction with indigenous peoples and can lead to the better establishment of justice for indigenous peoples.

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