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Friday, 10 October 2014 06:53

Seattle Discovers the Truth, Dumps Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples' Day

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anindig(Photo: Robbt)

It's been a pivotal, unjust and enduring false narrative that Columbus "discovered" the Americas.

How could he have "found" the western hemisphere, when millions and millions of indigenous people were already living here? The whole premise of Columbus finding previously unknown territory - celebrated on October 13 as a federal holiday (although he never even touched ground in what is now the United States) - is a dangerous Eurocentric perspective. It is a keystone in the still-prevalent delusion that white colonizers "brought" civilization to the Americas. 

Next week, Truthout and BuzzFlash will be offering a brilliant book (available now) that comprehensively debunks the framing of the history of the Americas from a conqueror's perspective: An Indigenous Peoples' History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz.

Within this context, it is heartening that the city of Seattle, according to the Associated Press, has ended the celebration of Columbus Day and replaced it with honoring Indigenous Peoples' Day:

The Seattle City Council is replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples' Day in the city.

The resolution that passed unanimously Monday celebrates the contributions and culture of Native Americans and the indigenous community in Seattle on the second Monday in October, the same day as the federally recognized Columbus Day.

Tribal members and other supporters say the move recognizes the rich history of people who have inhabited the area for centuries....

"Nobody discovered Seattle, Washington," [said Fawn Sharp, president of the Quinault Nation, a tribe on the Olympic Peninsula, who is also president of the Affiliated Tribes of Northwest Indians.]

The Associated Press article quoted a member of the Seattle Italian community protesting, "We don't argue with the idea of Indigenous Peoples' Day. We do have a big problem of it coming at the expense of what essentially is Italian Heritage Day."

If that's the case, then find a day and celebrate Italian traditions and accomplishments, of which there are many. That would be a worthy festive holiday. However, claiming that an Italian "discovered" the Americas is an inherently dishonest and racially biased assertion - and serves as the basis for perpetuating a fictional outlook that attempts to justify colonization.

As Dunbar-Ortiz writes in her book, it was the concept of "discovery" that became the justification for the acquisition of lands in the Americas - including the United States - under a legal "doctrine of discovery." Not only were indigenous people deemed disposable through mass killings, war, disease and starvation; legally, they didn't "exist." Furthermore, they were considered racially inferior and, in essence, not of the same species as the European colonizers who slaughtered them.

The framing of Columbus finding the Americas as if no humans lived here reinforces the deception that only individuals of European descent were actually people. The Seattle resident of Italian descent who spoke with the Associated Press also objected to the city council action because, he asserted, "America wouldn't be America without Christopher Columbus." That reaction speaks volumes about about viewing European conquest of other peoples as a positive "civilizing" force, without regard to the human rights and personhood of indigenous peoples who were living in the Americas when Columbus first landed on an island in what is now the Bahamas.

The Seattle City Council deserves credit for doing its small part in correcting the frame in which we view the voyages of Columbus to the "new world" - which, of course, was not "new" at all. To this day, we reside on occupied land.

Copyright, Truthout. May not be reprinted without permission. 


White House Petition: Change the Columbus Day Holiday to Indigenous Peoples’ Day