This week, the United States of America is celebrating Christopher Columbus, the lost Italian who has long been credited for the discovery of the North American continent. Even though Columbus landed on some island in the Bahamas in 1492, he is still lauded in most history books as the European who discovered America.
In South Dakota, the second Monday in October has been designated as Native American Day since 1990. Still, many non-Native Americans will overlook the fact that the state legislature changed the holiday from Columbus to Native American. Perhaps it’s out of ignorance that they refuse to acknowledge the change of the holiday name. Or maybe it’s because Christopher Columbus will always be their hero.
The working people on South Dakota’s Indian reservations probably don’t give a second thought to what the day is called, they enjoy the holiday as a paid vacation day. Many people in South Dakota have also forgotten that the late Governor George Mickelson asked the state legislature to declare 1990 as a Year of Reconciliation. Yet, there has not really been any reconciliation between the State of South Dakota and the tribal citizens living on the nine reservations.
Contemporary tribal citizens are making a conscious choice to call themselves by the names used by their ancestors. For instance, many people at Rosebud prefer to be called Sicangu Lakota instead of Rosebud Sioux. In addition, other states in this country are changing the name of the Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day to recognize the struggles we continue to suffer as rightful residents of Turtle Island.
Some prefer Indigenous Peoples Day because it connotates what we’ve known forever – our ancestors were thriving on Turtle Island long before Columbus stumbled onto an unnamed island in the Bahamas. Oral tradition tells us our long-ago ancestors emerged from Wind Cave. But American history books continue to confuse modern day Lakota students by perpetuating the fallacy that our ancestors walked across an ice bridge to settle here.
Over the weekend there were many celebrations of Indigenous Peoples Day across this continent. Parades were held in many cities to remind the descendants of all who immigrated to this continent that Indigenous people have always been here. We are still strong in our cultures and ceremonies. Indigenous children all across Turtle Island are growing up immersed in their own culture and attending ceremony on a regular basis.
Yet, there are many of us who see no reason to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Day. The choice to not celebrate a holiday initially declared to acknowledge a lost Italian – and later the Native American or Indigenous people he attempted to annihilate – is personal. It’s great to have a paid day off for the working people. But I don’t feel good about celebrating Native American or Indigenous Peoples Day when there are cages full of brown children at the borders of the United States.
Our ancestors were thriving when Columbus landed on that unnamed island in the Bahamas. It’s said our ancestors welcomed the immigrants with open arms; providing shelter and food when they had none. Look where our generosity got us.
Today there is no attempt at reconciliation in South Dakota. Instead, our people continue to be racially profiled when we travel to the sacred HeSapa. Wasicu cops watch for license plates from counties designated as Indian reservations and look for any reason to stop our people. Our children continue to be abused in the state-controlled social services system.
The Indigenous people of America are still referred to as “merciless Indian Savages” in the 1776 Declaration of Independence.
I can’t celebrate any holiday when there are still countless Indigenous children dying in American-built cages.
Vi Waln (Lakota) is an award-winning Journalist. She can be reached through email firstname.lastname@example.org