“For American Indians, Columbus Day is not a typical holiday. We don’t celebrate 500 years of being dominated, exploited, enslaved and nearly exterminated by Europeans. But we do celebrate our survival.” Diana King, teacher Waubun High School, Minnesota
Before last week, of the two names in the title, I only knew Columbus. But last week, Denise and I visited Mackinac Island. The island is located in the straits between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron. In 1898 cars were banned on the island. Today all travel is by horse, bicycle or foot. We chose bicycle. I can control a bike better than I can control a horse.
Fun, beautiful ride. It was weird though watching for cars that weren’t there. We learned that the 8 mile trek around the outskirts of the island was called, “Native American Cultural History Trail,” and is marked by 6 interpretative panels describing the Native American experience on the island.
It wasn’t pretty. Oh, the scenery was pretty. The story was not. Unless you like a story of Native Americans being robbed of their land by white settlers, stripped of their language, culture and religion.
The Treaty of 1836, ceded 13,837,207 acres in the northwest portion of the Lower Peninsula and the easter portion of the Upper Peninsula to the U.S government. The treaty made it possible for the Michigan Territory to be granted statehood and admission to the Union, but it didn’t do much for the Anishinaabek Native Americans.
The U.S. agreed to pay for the land and guarantee the Native Americans permanent land and access to hunting and fishing rights. But once the Anishinaabek representatives left Washington, Congress, reworked the treaty. Isn’t that special?
Permanent rights to the land? No more. Now they had five years, after which the U.S. could forcibly remove them from Northern Michigan.
The treaty was nothing short of government-sponsored ethnic cleansing of the Anishinaabek culture. Their social customs and languages were suppressed. Their religion was made illegal.
“Indian Schools” arose between 1880-1935 in which the Native Americans endured “forced assimilation.” The children were to become “civilized” in white culture, language and religion. Failure to abandon their own language or spiritual beliefs resulted in severe punishment.
Honestly, the hard facts on those panels lessened a bit the joy of the ride.
What would we do if a foreign power invaded our community, broke their agreement with us, made the practice of our religion illegal, suppressed our customs and language?
We wouldn’t think it was right if it happened to us. Do you think it was right that it happened to them?
Now we come to the other name in the title: Columbus. Monday, October 9, was Columbus Day. But many communities around the country have booted Columbus in favor of “Indigenous Peoples Day.”
“No sensible Indian person,” wrote George P. Horse Capture, “can celebrate the arrival of Columbus.”
Columbus didn’t show much of the Jesus he claimed to follow. Columbus’ voyages were religious missions. He put it like this: “God made me the messenger of the new heaven and the new earth of which he spoke in the Apocalypse of St John (Rev. 21:1) after having spoken of it through the mouth of Isaiah; and showed me the spot where to find it.”
Columbus’ strategy for creating the new heaven and the new earth? Forced conversion, rape, pillaging, slavery, genocide.
Doesn’t sound like Jesus, to me.
Bartolome de las Casas, a young priest who participated in the conquest of Cuba and wrote a history of the Indies, agreed. He describes the treatment of the natives: “Endless testimonies…prove the mild and pacific temperament of the natives….But our work was to exasperate, ravage, kill, mangle and destroy; small wonder then, if they tried to kill one of us now and then…The admiral, it is true, was blind as those who came after him, and he was so anxious to please the King that he committed irreparable crimes against the Indians…”
Here are some lessons I’m learning:
*Columbus left a legacy on how not to treat people. Captain John Smith used Columbus as a role model on setting a “get-tough” policy against Native Americans in Virginia in 1624. The Pilgrims and Puritans sold the survivors of the Pequot War into slavery in Bermuda in 1637. Was the treatment of the Michigan Native Americans traceable to Columbus? His legacy casts a long shadow.
What legacy am I leaving?
*Columbus was a devoted Christian. An avid Bible-reader. His journals are filled with references to Christ, Mary and the saints. How then, could he treat people this way?
What in my life is inconsistent with the life of Jesus I profess to follow?