A Fight for Indigenous Peoples’ Day

People protesting Columbus Day in 2011 during an Occupy Sacramento march.

Photo by Chuck Moody, Creative Commons

People protesting Columbus Day in 2011 during an Occupy Sacramento march.

Nizhoni Ward, Writer

She walks around in this city that once used to just be land. What she doesn’t know is that this was once Native land. She looks at the mirror seeing her glowing skin and long hair, not knowing this is what her ancestors gave her. She questions who she is, as being Native American is just an ethnicity to her. 

Today or even years from now this could be the Native American youth of America. Being Native American is difficult if you don’t know your history and background. America doesn’t teach the truth of Native American history and no one truly knows the traditions of each tribe besides its own people. 

As Columbus Day approaches, many believe him to be the man who discovered America. This, of course, is a controversial sentiment, seeing as there were people in the Americas when Columbus landed in the Bahamas. Can one discover what is already inhabited? 

Columbus even acknowledges the fact there were people living in the land before he arrived. As he wrote in his journal, “that we might form great friendship, for I knew that they were a people who could be more easily freed and converted to our holy faith by love than by force, gave to some of them red caps, and glass beads to put round their necks, and many other things of little value, which gave them great pleasure, and made them so much our friends that it was a marvel to see.” 

Later in his journal, he says these people he had come upon would be great servants and are very intelligent. He even goes on to say “six natives for our highness’.This implying the forceful conversion of christianity. Also, how he saw Natives not as people but as props for slavery. Indicating dictatorship behavior as he thought Europeans were better than everyone else.

For Indigenous peoples, letting Columbus Day continue proves America’s tone deafness and ignorance to the truth of their history. This is similar to what Columbus displayed towards Native Americans in 1492. 

“Columbus was equivalent to Adolf Hitler to Native people and we have to see him glorified with statues and a national holiday,” said Frank Waln, an Indigenous artist and activist. 

Native Americans have a long and difficult history that makes up America. Christopher Columbus gave Indigenous people diseases and kidnapped Natives to make them slaves. As a Native person, you wouldn’t want to see someone glorified for doing hate crimes to your ancestors. 

“I believe the holiday should be changed to Indigenous Peoples Day so people can learn about us and future Indigenous generations can take pride in who they are.” said Lisa Bernal, a Chicago Indigenous community member.

Many people don’t know much about Native American culture. Many old films such as cowboys and indians depict Native Americans as savages. Natives were also considered Indians and even today people still classify them as that. Even in many westernized history books, it makes out Native Americans history not to be so bad and as if they’re foreign to America.

“Kill the Indian, Save the Man” said Richard H. Pratt, an army official who opened a boarding school for Indigenous youth. According to nativepartnership.org, In 1879 Pratt believed that Natives who took school in white communities could teach them to fit in. As he took Natives, he put them with white families and colonized their entire being. He hoped these Native children wouldn’t go back to their reservations but become a part of the white community. 

As colonization happened, Natives would be taken from their homes and forced into boarding schools. They were forced to learn English, cut their hair and learn in schools. Many children were stripped of their identity and transformed into what America wanted them to be.

Frank Waln performs for the Peoples’ Social Forum in 2014. (Photo by Ben Powless, Creative Commons)

“We are very sophisticated and intelligent people. I want others to know that Natives weren’t savages or wild but we were engineers and scientists. We had to build so much and work with what we had. Such things as finding food and making clothing just to live, ” said Waln.

In a recent report in the New York Times, America has been most recently using Native peoples’ help. As the wildfires continue along the west coast, the policy makers of California are taking interest in Native peoples. This is because the people of the plains did control burns of their grasslands. They did this so the buffalo could roam around as they used them for food, clothes, and bedding.  Furthermore, through this they were using science and engineering to make their living better. 

As Monday, Oct.12 comes up, think about the Indigenous People, all the things they’ve done for America and the injustice they still deal with today. They’re still here. 

Interested in learning more about Native American culture or eager to support Native businesses? Explore these few websites to learn more about it: 

Ah-Shí Beauty (Gallup, New Mexico)

This makeup brand is Navajo owned, with store fronts located in Arizona and New Mexico. They want to empower and inspire anyone and everyone. Also, to embrace your unique beauty. Visit the Ah-Shí Beauty website

Indigenous Styles (Chicago, Illinois)

This clothing and accessory store is Navajo owned by LeAnn Osby. She focuses mostly around indigenous peoples. She does this to showcase the resilience of native people and wants everyone to know they’re still here. Visit the Indigenous Styles website.

Crystal Dugi (Tuba City, Arizona)

This clothing and accessory store is Navajo and owned by Crystal Dugi. She designs all her items herself and focuses on Indigenous beauty as well as empowerment. Visit Crystal Dugi’s Redbubble.

Music by Frank Waln

He is a rapper who makes songs about his own experiences and the problems surrounding Indigenous peoples. Click this link for a recent song, titled “Hope,” that he wrote in reaction to a trip to Palestine.