Celebrating indigenous people


For many years, schools, businesses, and other big corporations shut down in observance of Columbus Day.

The common misconception that has been the standard teaching for generations is that Columbus discovered North America, thus the need for recognition. This misconception is one of the numerous reasons why the Indigenous Peoples’ Committee of Oberlin (Jean “Morning Dove” Foggo Simon, Pequot; Mary Hammond, Anglo Saxon; Cindi Byron-Dixon, Mohawk; Joella Byron-Dixon, Mohawk; Sundance, Muskogee; Three Eagle Cloud, Taino; Devon Schultz, youth representative, Muskogee; Jeriel Byron-Dixon, youth representative, Mohawk) was established in October 2016.

The fact that a holiday embedded in myths and folklore is annually celebrated is what inspired the group of community members to tell the truth about our nation’s history. We recognize that the holiday has provided an opportunity for those of Italian ancestry to celebrate the numerous contributions Italian immigrants have made to the United States. We do not intend to demean the positive values immigrants continue to bring to our exceptionally diverse society.

For starters, Christopher Columbus was an incredibly violent man. In his own journals, he spoke of the peaceful nature of the indigenous people that he encountered in Hispaniola, which is modern day Haiti. He wrote, “(The Arawak people) offered to share with anyone and when you ask for something, they never say no.” They had no weapons; their society had no criminals, prisons, or prisoners.

Columbus’ men killed for sport and committed such violence that one of his own men, Bartolome de las Casas, became mortified by the cruelty and began documenting what he witnessed. He wrote, “Such inhumanities and barbarisms were committed in my sight as no age can parallel. My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature that now I tremble as I write.”

No man, woman, or child was exempt from experiencing treachery at the hands of Columbus and his men. He actively participated in the sexual slavery of girls as young as nine years old. Upon Columbus’ arrival in Hispaniola, experts agree that there were approximately three million inhabitants. Twenty years after Columbus’ initial arrival, the population had decreased to only 60,000 inhabitants. After 50 years, the population was decimated. The remaining population was lost due to illness, slave trade, and massacre.

Columbus should not be elevated as a hero, not only by our own moral standards, but even of those at his time. In fact, he was returned in chains to Europe after having been charged with crimes against humanity.

There has been an ongoing grassroots movement to abolish Columbus Day and replace it with Indigenous Peoples’ Day across the country. In fact, more than 30 cities including but not limited to Denver, Berkeley, and Albuquerque, and the states of Alaska, Vermont and South Dakota have already done so. Oberlin, with its rich history of promoting and advocating for human rights, would be a logical addition to this growing list.

Scientists are studying the effects of trauma on the human psyche through epigenetics. Due to their challenging past, including forced assimilation and abuse in native boarding schools up until the 1990s, native people are often faced with identity crisis, when a balance between their own culture and mainstream society cannot be found. Indigenous people have disproportionately higher rates of poverty, unemployment, incarceration, violence/assault, and youth suicide. Addiction runs rampant through their communities and indigenous people have shorter life expectancies than the rest of the population, partly because of less access to quality health care and inadequate funding for health programs.

Indigenous Peoples’ Day celebrates the heritage of indigenous people throughout the Americas and across the globe, as well as the history and contribution of Native Nations in their regions; and the day honors indigenous people who live there and brings public awareness to the modern-day presence of native people in our communities.

By changing the holiday from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day, the community will recognize the historic and ongoing painful impacts that colonization had on indigenous people. Enacting and officially recognizing Indigenous Peoples’ Day on the second Monday in October would shed light on the history of European colonialism and indigenous genocide.

We hope that Oberlin will be the next city to stand in solidarity with our indigenous neighbors.

This column was written on behalf of the Indigenous Peoples’ Committee of Oberlin and endorsed by Community Peace Builders.

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By Cindi Byron-Dixon For the News-Tribune
http://www.theoberlinnewstribune.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/44/2017/08/web1_Petition-Signing.jpgBy Cindi Byron-Dixon For the News-Tribune