“Twenty-five years ago, I wrote an article, “Once Upon a Genocide,” reviewing the major children’s literature about Columbus. My conclusion was that these books teach young readers that colonialism and racism are normal.”
The world is still sliced in two between the worthy — the owning classes, the corporate masters, the generals — and the nobodies. The invaded, the owned, the bombed, the poisoned, the silenced.
A New York Times article, following the white supremacist demonstrations in Charlottesville, Virginia, and the murder of anti-racist activist Heather Heyer, described the growing calls to remove monuments that celebrate the Confederacy. The article went on to cite some who balk, however, when “the symbolism is far murkier, like Christopher Columbus.”
But there is nothing murky about Columbus’ legacy of slavery and terrorism in the Americas. The record is clear and overwhelming. The fact that The New York Times could report this with such confidence — adding that “most Americans learn rather innocently, in 1492 [Columbus] sailed the ocean blue until he discovered the New World” — means that educators and activists still have much work to do.
In fact, Christopher Columbus launched the trans-Atlantic slave trade in 1494, when he sent back at least two dozen enslaved Taínos, including children, to Spain. In February of that year, Columbus dispatched 12 of his 17 ships from the Caribbean back to Spain with a letter to be delivered to the king and queen by Antonio de Torres, captain of the returning fleet.
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From Indigenous Action:
Declarations, Disconnect, & Decolonial Recuperation
As momentum has accelerated for occupying forces to issue declarations of “Indigenous Peoples’ Day (IPD),” we can’t help but feel disconnected from the revelry.
Aside from psychic solace, if the state dismantles these statues and proclaims Indigenous Peoples’ Days, what do we actually achieve if the structures and systems rooted in colonial violence remain intact? Is it merely political posturing or window dressing to diminish liberatory agitations? Our senses are heightened as most re-brandings of Columbus Day into IPD appear to whitewash ongoing colonial legacies.
The statistics are all too familiar: Indigenous Peoples in the “U.S.” are the ethnic group that faces the highest police murder rate, the highest rates of incarnation, homelessness, and sexual violence.
So yes, we have very good reason to be skeptical of symbolic gestures.
We’re all for removing colonial symbols and nationalistic myths, so long as structures such as colonialism and racism go along with them. Problem is they are not. These edicts are readily embraced by their advocates as “steps in the right direction” for Indigenous interests, yet—as we’ll assert here—only serve to calcify colonial rule. What else are we to glean from superficial declarations handed down by occupying governing bodies?
Decolonial aspirations are stunted with liberal cosmetology if nothing concrete is done to address historical and ongoing anti-Indigenous brutality. This is an insidious conciliatory process of decolonial recuperation that is rooted in cultural and symbolic change primarily fixated on transforming social stature. It fails to meaningfully confront and transform social power.
Fall 2017 (v1.0)
Edits and contributions by
Indigenous Action Media Collective & friends
Downloadable PDFs | Readable | Printable (zine format)
From the Zinn Education Project: Teaching A People’s History:
As we write, we are witnessing an inspiring struggle playing out in North Dakota as Indigenous people and allies are attempting to stop the Dakota Access Pipeline. Dave Archambault, chairperson of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, stated, “This is a corporation that is coming forward and just bulldozing through without any concern for tribes.” The “bulldozing” of Indigenous lives, Indigenous lands, and Indigenous rights all began with Columbus’s invasion in 1492.
It is time to stop celebrating the crimes of Columbus and stand in solidarity with the Indigenous people who demand an end to Columbus Day. Instead of glorifying a person who enslaved and murdered people, destroyed cultures, and terrorized those who challenged his rule, we seek to honor these communities demanding sovereignty, recognition, and rights. We encourage schools to petition their administration and for communities to introduce legislation to rename Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day. Below is information and resources to join the campaign to Abolish Columbus Day.
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