28 Oct An Alarming Columbus Day
On October 12, I tweeted a few articles about Christopher Columbus and the need for us to repent for the ways we continue to benefit from the racism and violence of our ancestors here in America. The articles briefly outline the Native American genocide and discuss ways we can honor indigenous people instead of celebrating the tragedy.
I’m new to learning about our violent history. This past summer I spent some time on the Pine Ridge reservation in South Dakota, where I heard harrowing stories of injustice along with courageous stories of resilience from Native Americans. They showered us with hospitality, welcomed us into their powwows, and cooked feasts for us, always blessing us. As we sobbed at Wounded Knee and studied artwork from Indigenous people, an entire side of history that had been missing from my education came into view: the part where we European-Americans murdered hundreds of thousands of people and stole their land.
I’m still learning what it looks like to stand in solidarity with Indigenous people, but I figured sharing some articles was a good place to start. I shared a few from the Guardian and this article from a Native American leader named Mark Charles, where he encourages Americans to keep our sinful history before us, saying: “Schools in Germany are required to teach the holocaust, so that they will never repeat it. If America does not keep its unjust history in front of itself, it will never learn, never grow, and never mature.”
The response to those tweets? Absolute outrage.
One person told me I should kill myself. Most of these people consider themselves Christians.
How do we move toward restored relationship when we can’t point out the ongoing injustice Native Americans experience without being deemed left-wing violent extremists? The general reaction was that each of these individuals weren’t here in 1492 and they did not personally slaughter anyone and can’t we just move on.
We white people currently benefit from the choices made by our ancestors though. Our ancestors killed people to get this land and then put themselves in positions of power—positions of power that we white people still hold today. And we continue to abuse that power: for instance, desecrating sacred Indigenous sites for financial gain.
The goal of acknowledging this is not for those of us who are white to feel guilty and it’s certainly not helpful for us to get defensive. If you’re anything like me–grieved by all of this but clueless as to what you can actually do–then start by simply mourning. We need to lament. We need to tell the whole truth about our history and honestly confront the fact that many justified the conquest by claiming they were doing the Lord’s work: Evangelism.
Then we can spend time listening to Native American leaders. Find out what’s happening in your community and join some of the gatherings that are open to everyone. It’s one way those of us who are not indigenous can begin to learn what it looks like to stand in solidarity with our Native American neighbors and make new friends along the way. Native leaders are telling us what’s important to them and we have the opportunity to decide it’s important to us too.