Levi Rickert, editor-in-chief in Native Condition. Discussion »
Every year on this day, the second Monday in October, is designated as a federal holiday. To millions of American Indians there is a gnawing sense of anger that a man who caused so many indigenous people to be killed is afforded a national holiday.
Levi Rickert Editor-in-Chief
To many American Indians, today is Indigenous Day. We choose not celebrate the man who 'sailed the ocean blue in 1492.' The fact that American Indians choose not to celebrate today's national holiday goes way beyond being politically correct. It is about respect for our ancestors who were murdered and today's American Indians who suffer.
So much of what is taught about the lost sailor in American history books is part of a constructed fiction that is passed down from one generation to the next. If one wonders how fiction and lies are passed down, one only needs to tune into presidential debates. It is easy deceive through presentation - even with fact checkers telling the truth. People seem to enjoy constructed fiction to satisfy their own beliefs systems.
Several years ago, when I was the executive director of an urban American Indian agency, I was conducting a workshop where someone of Italian heritage defended this lost sailor. She became indignant because I said the wrong thing about her hero. To be clear, I have absolutely nothing against Italians. I just refuse to think of this lost hero from Genoa as a hero.
It was not until 1936 that this man was given a national holiday. It was President Franklin Roosevelt who wanted to ramp up more votes among Italians that today's holiday gained such recognition.
It is an insult to our indigenous ancestors who died at the hands of aggressors, who sought to commit genocide against the people of the Americas, to honor the sailor who got lost with a national holiday. It is an insult to American Indians who yet today live in poverty, who lack proper housing and suffer from unemployment on reservations to honor this lost sailor with a national holiday.
This is what President Obama included in his annual proclamation in honor of the national holiday when it was released this past Friday:
"As we reflect on the tragic burdens tribal communities bore in the years that followed, let us commemorate the many contributions they have made to the American experience, and let us continue to strengthen the ties that bind us today."
The Native News Network ran a story about the president's proclamation on Saturday. One reader wrote 'most presidents never even mention us. The words tragic burdens tribal communities bore in the years that followed may be the nicest words ever written for genocide.
I seriously doubt our Jewish brothers and sisters would appreciate a president of the United States referring to the Holocaust as merely 'tragic burdens born' by their ancestors.
It is time for President Obama, through an executive order, to do away with the national holiday that falls on the second Monday of October.
In the meantime, American Indians need to celebrate this day as Indigenous Day. I purposely set out at the beginning of this commentary not to mention the lost sailor's name. I discovered we need not even mention the sailor who got lost by name.
posted October 8, 2012 8:10 am edt