“They willing traded everything they owned…They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features… They do not bear arms and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…They would make fine servants…With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.”
- From the log of Christopher Columbus meeting the Awarak people for the first time
(p. 1: A People’s History of the United States)
And that is exactly what Columbus did when sponsored in a return voyage by the King and Queen of Spain, with the promise that he would return with “as much gold as they need—and as many slaves as they ask.” He commanded that these native people who had so generously and peacefully shared anything they owned with him had to go out and bring back gold. If they collected a certain quantity within three months, they were given a copper token to hang around their necks. Those without the token had their hands cut off and bled to death. And in celebration of it all, Columbus wrote:
“ Thus the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way…”
And so a wrathful and vengeful God (whose Son preached love) created a mindset based on power, domination, greed, private ownership of material goods, brutality, punishment, violence, intolerance that created a story of White Supremacy, Manifest Destiny and the plundering of the earth that has brought us to exactly where we are. A nation (and world) beset by collective trauma, injustice, climate catastrophe, fear, cynicism, hatred, abuse, purposefully perpetuated ignorance and all the other cancers carried in our cells from these short-sighed ancestors that make it so supremely difficult to wake up each morning and have a nice day.
But a worldview created by the human mind is one that can also be dismantled by the human mind, a mind that can consider a different worldview created by other human minds. And there are other Ancestors singing in our blood. For example:
“We love the earth and all things of the earth. Kinship with all creatures of the earth, sky and water is a real and active principle. For the animal and bird world there exists a brotherly feeling that keeps us (the Lakota people) safe among them and so close do we come to our feathered and furred friends that in true brotherhood we speak a common tongue.
Man’s heart away from nature becomes hard; that lack of respect for growing, living things soon leads to a lack of respect for humans too. So we keep our youth close to its softening influence.”
- Chief Luther Standing Bear (p. 6 of Touch the Earth)
Here is a worldview based on kinship, on interrelations with humans and non-humans, on relationship with the natural world, on a kind and mostly benevolent Great Spirit, on the sense of belonging. A world that can lead us to a new vision of humanity and our place on this precious planet.
One of the chapter in Rebecca Solnit’s book A Field Guide to Getting Lost(p. 70) tells a story of some Spanish conquistadors (note the language: conquest) who got separated from their group, wandered until they were taken in by an indigenous tribe and “went native,” learning their ways. The indigenous view of the conquistador culture these Spaniards came from was right on target:
“We came from the sunrise, they from the sunset. We healed the sick, they killed the sound. We came naked and barefoot, they clothed, horsed and lanced. We coveted nothing but gave whatever we were given while they robbed whomever they found and bestowed nothing on anyone.”
And there you have it. One world view that leans towards death (the sunset), kills the healthy, clothes our vulnerability and barefoot contact with the earth, carries weapons, robs all and gives nothing. Another that arises from the promise of the sunrise, walks in direct contact with the earth, brings healing, lives simply and gives generously. That’s what we’re choosing when we decide whether to celebrate Columbus Day or Indigenous People’s Day.
On Friday, President Biden officially declared this day its renamed Indigenous People’s Day. That’s a good sign. Yes, the lost children of the conquistadors who have built their identities around conquest and domination and privilege and power and money will sputter and spout and fume on Fox News, but there is a growing movement of folks ready to change the story for the benefit of our healing in the moment and the future of our grandchildren.
Really, there is no choice as to which to celebrate. Let’s do this.