This is not a post to tell you why you shouldn't celebrate "Columbus Day." No, this is a post to say "Happy Indigenous Peoples Day."
This is not a post to tell you why you shouldn't celebrate "Columbus Day."
Lot's of people have done that. Here are a few I recommend if you are interested.
1. The Oatmeal reminds us that Christopher Columbus was awful. He would cut the ears and noses off of Native people who refused to give him food and gold and allow him to rape the Native women. He used Natives as dog food. And he would sell Native women into sex slavery. The most requested were girls between the ages of 9-10.
2. Indian Country Today reminds us that Columbus never actually landed in America and he enslaved Native people for gold.
3. John Oliver reminds us that there are lots of other Italians we could celebrate who didn't spend their time murdering, raping and enslaving people.
This is not exactly a post to tell you that the reason why Columbus day is still is a thing is because the "Doctrine of Discovery" is still a thing and in order for anyone to buy that you can "discover" something that is already inhabited, owned and used by a whole other civilization Columbus has to be a thing.
But it's true.
Basically in 1493 after the whole "Columbus DISCOVERED a 'New World' so it's ours now!" craziness Spain realized "Uh, so we didn't 'discover' nothing because it belongs to a bunch of people. Also, what's to say that other countries can't just come and 'discover' this land now that we're there. It's kind of a very shaky claim if you think about it. Like we could set up whole cities, be one of the earliest civilizations to use zero, have and incredibly intricate and accurate calendar, and also give the world really important crops like corn and potatoes and then some dude gets lost and gets off his boat and goes 'This is now land for my country! I have discovered it!' And what are we supposed to say? 'It doesn't work that way?'"
So in 1493 the Pope issued this Papal Bull called the “Inter Caetera" which basically said "Spain can discover any land it wants so long as it is not a Christian nation." And then it said "nobody else can discover it after that because we've decided there is this imaginary line that you aren't allowed to cross to discover shiz anymore."
Actually it said this:
It established a demarcation line one hundred leagues west of the Azores and Cape Verde Islands and assigned Spain the exclusive right to acquire territorial possessions and to trade in all lands west of that line. All others were forbidden to approach the lands west of the line without special license from the rulers of Spain. This effectively gave Spain a monopoly on the lands in the New World.
A year later in 1494, Spain and Portugal agreed to the "Treaty of Tordesillas" which divided the western world up between Spain and Portugal. It set another imaginary line and said lands east of the line were for Portugal and lands west of the line were for Spain. Because that's a real thing. They wrote it down on a piece a of paper and all. The treaty also reminded everyone that only Non-Christian nations could be "discovered."
Skip forward to 1792 and Thomas Jefferson who was like "The Doctrine of Discovery is such a good idea." He then tries to use it to set up claims to various parts of the Pacific Northwest, telling Lewis and Clark to go out and discover stuff.
Finally in 1823 there was Johnson v McIntosh, one of Chief Justice John Marshall's "trilogy." (So this one is the first of the Star Wars where Marshall's Darth Vader is all "This is about the republic!" and "Stop bugging me about stuff Obi Wan I'm just trying to secure the republic!")
In this case Marshall was trying to decide if the United States had to honor land sales and agreements where Native people sold the land directly to a person. Marshall specifically used the "Doctrine of Discovery" to solidify his point that the United States was the "owner" of the land by right of discovery.
"Look at all these documents that talk about how you can discover a place, but only if it wasn't a Christian place. Those documents are real things that are real." Says me in my best old man Chief Justice voice.
According to this Native people lost their complete sovereign property rights because they were "discovered" (not by the United States FYI, but by a "European Nation"). Marshall said that Native people have the "right of occupancy" and that only the discovering nation could ever buy land from Native peoples.
And that's our law. The United States can "discover" a place that is fully occupied by cultures and societies. Cultures and societies that they recognized as sovereign nations (through treaties that they agreed to). Because... Christianity and you know, Columbus. (The Doctrine of Discovery is still cited in Federal law cases, like in 2005 City of Sherrill, NY v Oneida Nation because it is a real thing that is real [it's not]. Non Christian nations around the world should be FAR-EAKED).
So you see, we have to believe that this could possibly be a real thing. We have to grow up thinking "yeah, Columbus discovered America." Because then, when we learn about the "Doctrine of Discovery" it kind of makes sense. It has to kind of make sense so that we don't start realizing how tenuous the claim to much of the land in the U.S. actually is. If instead the U.S. had to honor the treaties, or make new treaties for land that was just stolen outright, then what happens? (Decolonization that's what).
But I digress because this is actually a post to say "Happy Indigenous Peoples' Day." And to let you know the best way to celebrate Indigenous peoples' day is to buy some of these awesome things made by Indigenous people that celebrate Indigenous survivance, resilience and futurities.
That's right we are still here. Not "discovered" or "conquered" or "vanishing" or "domestic dependent" or "limited."
We are still here. Not "sad" or "dying" or "lost" or "extinct."
We are still here. Not "the last of" or waiting for our white savior.
We are still here. Making noise, making jokes, making a difference, making tshirts.
You should buy one of them. Here are some I recommend (click the photo to go to the website!)
Do not shop at any Columbus Day events. Instead tell your local stores to have sales to celebrate "Indigenous peoples' day." And if there aren't any Indigenous Peoples' Day sales in your area, spend the day online #BuyingNative
P.S. I plan to update this entry throughout the day with more places you can #BuyNative so check back!
How about this freaking amazing scarf from J. OKUMA because holy crap I want everything, EVERYTHING from this site.
Cutcha Risling Baldy is an Associate Professor and Department Chair of Native American Studies at Humboldt State University. She received her PhD in Native American Studies from the University of California, Davis. She is also a writer, mother, volunteer Executive Director for the Native Women's Collective and is currently re-watching My Name is Earl...
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