As children, most of us learned about Christopher Columbus discovering America, and the celebration continues today. The truth, however, was not shown in our history books when I was a child, and I don’t know if is being taught today.
For those of you who were as uninformed as I was, here’s a little historical truth.
Columbus Day was invented by the Catholic Knights of Columbus, a fraternal service organization, back in the 1930s. They were looking for a Catholic hero their children could look up to.
As a result of their lobbying, in 1934 Congress and President Franklin Roosevelt signed Columbus Day into law as a federal holiday to honor “this courageous explorer.”
We’ve since learned that it was not Columbus who discovered this country. It was the Viking, Leif Ericson, who founded a Norse village on Newfoundland 500 years earlier.
Not stated in the history books of my youth was the fact that the Native Americans actually discovered North America about 14,000 years before Columbus was even born.
When he landed in the Bahamas in October 1492, he found the islands were inhabited by friendly, handsome, smart people who possessed no weapons. They were known as the Arawaks. He subsequently enslaved them to work the gold mines, sold native girls into sex slavery and, when they refused or could no longer work, he had their hands cut off and tied to their necks.
He enslaved these people. Conditions were so intolerable that at one time, 100 committed mass suicide. Catholic law prohibited enslavement of Christians, so Columbus simply refused to baptize the native people.
There are pages and pages of history documenting examples of his cruelty. I’ve cited just a few. It should also be noted here that most of his income came from slavery.
And this is the man who in some quarters is looked upon as a hero. In fact, he was not. No day should be set aside in his honor.
Some states have dropped Columbus Day as a holiday and replaced it with Indigenous Peoples Day. This entire country should do likewise to honor the peoples who truly discovered and settled this country, the people I refer to as Native Americans.
But Columbus simply set the tone for settlers who subsequently arrived in this country. The settlers and the government murdered, cheated, stole from and enslaved the Native Americans.
The Natives had their lands confiscated, were forced onto reservations that weren’t fit for human habitation, were deprived of their weapons and horses and were made to till land that could not grow crops.
Most of the western movies depicted the “Indians” as bloodthirsty renegades who raped and plundered, when in fact that type of activity usually took place in response to the atrocities committed upon them by settlers, reservation bosses and the military sent in to quash their various rebellions (which were attempts to live like the human beings they were.)
As recently as the 1970s, Indian children were being taken from their families on a huge scale. About 25 percent to 34 percent of all Native American children were removed from their homes on either a temporary or permanent basis and passed into the system of federal schooling, foster care or adoption. The non-Native American children removal rate was 5 percent.
In 1978, Congress passed the Indian Child Welfare Act. It took into consideration Indian customs and religion and stated that maintaining family and cultural bonds was of utmost importance. It also required that tribal governments be involved in all such rulings.
The Natives had their heroes, too. Many in our current era deserve recognition, but I’m sticking with earlier history to show where we are now.
Sitting Bull (the name given him by the white man) was a great Sioux chief and holy man. He was killed by Indian police at the Standing Rock Reservation in South Dakota. His Indian name was Tatanka Iyotake. He had resisted white efforts to destroy him and the Lakota people. He felt the whites wanted to undermine the strength and identity of the Lakota and would lead to their ultimate decline.
Sitting Bull, as he aged, simply wanted to be left alone to pursue traditional ways. But Anglo settlers’ interest in the land resulted in confinement of Indians to government-controlled reservations. That led to inevitable conflict.
When told to move, Sitting Bull refused. The Battle of the Little Big Horn was the outcome, during which the confederated Lakota tribes and Northern Cheyenne wiped out Custer’s 7th Cavalry.
History says Sitting Bull and his followers fled to Canada for four years before his return to the U.S. and his surrender in 1883.
He enjoyed considerable power on the reservation to which he was assigned, Standing Rock. But when the spiritual revival movement known as the Ghost Dance began to grow in popularity, Indian agents thought Sitting Bull was the driving force behind it. They attempted to arrest him. A scuffle ensued, and he was shot dead, as were 12 other Indians; three were wounded.
Two weeks later, the U.S. Army brutally suppressed the Ghost Dance movement with the massacre of a band of Lakota at Wounded Knee. This was supposedly the final act in the history of the American war against the Plains Indians.
In addition to abolishing Columbus Day, we should pay tribute to the Native Americans and the horrors they suffered at the hands of the white man. In my opinion, the holocaust museum that has been suggested would only be appropriate, considering what our original Americans suffered. The museum should be built at the expense of the federal government that participated in and fostered the situation Native Americans find themselves in today.
There are those who say the past is the past. To them, I’d add, “And payback’s a bitch.”
We owe it to the original Americans to restore their rightful place in history.
Fast forward to modern day Fargo. A young, beautiful, pregnant Native woman is murdered and her baby taken from her. Multiple days go by before the authorities launch a search. The facts relating to her disappearance are clear, and to my knowledge, nothing could have been done by authorities to prevent the murder.
I do pose the question — if, instead of Native American, she had been the daughter of a well-placed, influential Fargoan, and using the same facts … do you think the search itself would have started in earnest much sooner? It is my belief that it certainly would have. While that wouldn’t have stopped the murder, it would have saved the family and friends prolonged searching and grief.
As humans, we stand or fall together. Fargo-Moorhead has its own racial problems and people fomenting discrimination. We in the majority must continue the fight to end discrimination against any individual or group based on race, color, lifestyle or religion.
And on a personal note … this past weekend while I was at the lake, I looked out the back door and spotted a fawn. I grabbed my camera and trotted to the side of my neighbors’ garage, creeping up on the little bugger. It didn’t move … not even when I came within 10 feet.
Thanks, Brad and Sheila Klose, for not telling me you’d installed a fawn statue in your back yard. I felt like an idiot but did laugh. Amen.