Indigenous People’s Day is an important holiday and it also brings up many feelings… like anger, frustration, pain, and exhaustion. There are still so many that argue that Columbus was an “explorer” and that we must focus on “the good” of his “discovery.” I can’t do that. I won’t do that. Folks at The Conscious Kid published this brief thread on Twitter about the truth behind this holiday, and this tweet, in particular, speaks to what he actually did:
His “discovery” of a people and land that existed forever before he even thought of traveling, was in fact the first step in the direction of structured European colonization.
Where did he go upon arriving at the wrong place (he was supposed to go to India/Asia)? He landed where my ancestors were. He landed upon the Taínos. So in several ways, this holiday is personal for me. Bill Bigelow, co-director of Zinn Education Project published “Whose History Matters? Students Can Name Columbus, But Most Have Never Heard of the Taíno People” in Commondreams.org in 2018. The article necessarily explores and clarifies why students know Columbus but don’t know the Taínos. He explains, “For the Taíno people of the Caribbean, their erasure began almost immediately, with Columbus’s arrival. It was not curricular, it was flesh and blood. “With 50 men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want,” Columbus wrote in his journal on his third day in the Americas. In 1494, Columbus launched the transatlantic slave trade, sending at least two dozen enslaved Taínos to Spain, “men and women, boys and girls,” as he wrote.” The fact that we have his journal, but not their voices should tell us all we need to know about the corruption of U.S. history, what it values, who it values, and what messages it wants to embrace. It’s a lie. It’s criminal. It’s offensive.
As educators, we have to tell the truth. We must teach young people what really happened and why. We have to help them make connections between history and our present. I’m preaching to the choir so I’ll stop, but this Indigenous People’s Day feels a bit different. Maybe because I have my own children and the oldest is at an age where we can talk about this. Maybe it’s because I’m still pained by the fact that there’s so much about the Tainos that I don’t know. Maybe it’s because I’m growing exhausted by this fight for justice and truth. Maybe it’s because I’m realizing more and more that even though so many didn’t survive, enough did and their resistance and persistence are everything. To say that you survived Colón and his heinous crew is the most powerful and amazing thing one can say.
I can’t say I identify as Indigenous because I’m so removed from the Taíno today that it would be a farce, but I can say that at times I wonder and I dream. I felt this article entitled “I’m Dreaming About An Indigenous World That Doesn’t Erase it’s Indigenous Intelligence,” so deep, in a way I don’t know if I would have a while ago. “Native America might always feel the grief from that loss because colonial disruption is still here and its violence permeates every aspect of American culture and politics. Every aspect of our lives suffers from this violent structure.” This is why although it happened to my ancestors- people I don’t know, people whose name I’ll never know, people whose blood runs in me but I can’t pinpoint how much- it still haunts me. It’s still present and it’s exacerbated by the silence around that wound. The more it’s ignored, the more it rots.
She also said, “I keep having these recurring dreams where I’m on a plane or train and all the people around me, Native and non-Native, are speaking different Indigenous languages. I hear Paiute, Lashootseed, Diné, Catawba, and they’re feeding their babies wild rice and smoked fish. I’m dreaming about a modern world that doesn’t erase its Indigenous intelligence, but rather embraces the rich complexity of Indigenous culture.” Wow. That would be amazing. That would change everything.