Each year as Columbus Day is observed in the United States, I struggle with how to approach the commemoration. Though I consider myself a dissident and a person who cares about justice, even I am sometimes put off by comments about the holiday which offer little but iconoclasm, hostility and snark.
It seems to me that Columbus Day is an opportunity to do more than that. First, we can take at least a moment to affirm the truth about Christopher Columbus. More exploiter than explorer, more gore monger than governor, his main achievement was to institute an orgy of theft and butchery which would continue through four centuries of genocide. This needs to be acknowledged and proclaimed as fact, simply and directly.
Beyond that, we can honor the spirit of resistance which is still alive today in groups such as Idle No More, and we can support them and join them in their efforts.
We can also spend some time learning about the peoples who were indigenous to North America, and take time to remember and honor those who fought for their own freedom and dignity.
Today, I am reading The Autobiography of Ma-ka-tai-me-she-kia-kiak, or Black Hawk written by the great warrior who perhaps best exemplifies the spirit of Native resistance in the region where I live.
I won’t wait for the government to change the name of the holiday to “Indigenous Peoples Day.” I certainly won’t refer to the holiday as “Black Hawk Day” since, sadly, most of my friends and neighbors would only think it has something to do with the ice hockey team.
But today I will celebrate Black Hawk – and Crazy Horse, and Sitting Bull – and others who had the courage to fight back. I will mourn those who died on the Trail of Tears, at Wounded Knee, and elsewhere at the hands of my European forebears. I will pray for the will and the way to join the resistance against imperialism, occupation and genocide wherever it exists in our world today.
Such is a fine and fitting commemoration.