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Indigenous People’s Day

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Normally I would wish you all a Happy Genocide Day, remembering the 523rd anniversary of Christopher Columbus landing in Hispaniola and immediately seeking to enslave the Taino people, starting a 500-year process of genocide of Native Americans throughout the Americas, a process that arguably still continues in many nations and which none of the modern nations in the Americas have dealt with properly, including the United States. That we celebrate Columbus Day is utterly offensive, since not only are we celebrating a horrible human being, we are also celebrating a very stupid one, who by all account should have died on the ocean and who was pretty much the only person who didn’t immediately realize what he had found.

I could go into so much detail about what this genocide entails. And I have on many occasions. There’s almost nothing in American history that didn’t either contribute to genocide or build on it. That includes both the American Revolution and the Civil War, which were utterly disastrous for Native Americans, a story that is told far too rarely. The Civil War led to the development of tactics by Grant, Sherman, and Sheridan used against tribes like the Comanche and Blackfeet in brutal ways that subjugated them. The American Revolution was very much about the abilities of whites to move across the Appalachians and take land, much of which happened through maximum brutality. Most Native American tribes fought with the British in both the American Revolution and the War of 1812 and with the French in the French and Indian War because they knew what their fate was if the English colonists/Americans were allowed to move west. They lost and the nightmare happened indeed.

There’s a lot of people on the left talking about these issues today. Unfortunately, they tend to talk about indigenous issues only on this day. By and large, when we think about racial problems in this country, it is overwhelming about African-Americans and then to some extent about Latinos. This makes some sense I guess–Native Americans are a small part of the population and live primarily in states far from media markets, and often in quite rural areas within them. Still, they suffer from the same racialized system of poverty, structural inequality, and police violence that African-Americans do. Red lives also matter. Given the historical weight of the genocidal project of colonization, we need to center these concerns much more in a daily analysis of American racial issues.

Luckily, there is a more positive movement going on that supports calling October 12 Genocide Day. A growing number of cities are referring to this day at Indigenous People’s Day, which is appropriate and a positive step. There is nothing about Columbus worth celebrating, but reappropriating that day to remember the people he killed and those who were killed by his successors in American exploration and colonization both affirms those people and is a productive way to discuss this history. Of course, this will probably never happen in a place like Providence with a large Italian population that celebrates Columbus as a hero that somehow relates to their community. But like pushing back against neo-Confederate interpretations of the Civil War and Reconstruction, these are decades-long fights that can make a positive difference in society.

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