Mackinac Island and Columbus Day

Columbus statue

“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?

 

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Don’t Know Much About History

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Happy Columbus Day. It’s not a big holiday.  There are no Columbus Day parties, unless you’re a school kid.  Any day that school is out is a party.  Some people take advantage of some Columbus Day sales, but that’s about it.

Some people didn’t realize it was Columbus Day until they went out to their mailbox and found it empty. “What’s up?” “Where’s the mail?” “Oh yeah, it’s Columbus Day.”

I grew up in a time when Columbus was seen as a hero.  Do you remember this line from a poem, “In fourteen hundred and ninety-two, Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”  How cute.

And then I was taught by Christian leaders who described in glowing terms Columbus’ commitment to Christ and sense of mission to bring the Gospel of Jesus Christ to the people who were “living in darkness and the shadow of death” (A quote from Columbus’ journal).

Columbus’ writings, though, show another side to the guy who got a holiday named after him.  Alongside claims that he is doing his work for God’s glory, he writes in his journal on October 12, 1492, the first day he encountered the native people of the Americas, that “they should be good servants…I, our Lord being pleased, will take hence, at the time of my departure, six natives for your Highness.”  Columbus promises, in a report to the Court in Madrid, “as much gold as they need…and as many slaves as they ask.”  He even gives God credit for his “success”: “Thus an eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.”  When a large percentage of the Indians died in transit, Columbus wrote, “Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold.”

In the prologue of his journal, Columbus writes, “Your Highnesses, as Catholic Christians and Princes who love the  holy Christian faith, and the propagation of it, and who are enemies to the sect of Mahoma (Islam) and to all idolatries and heresies, resolved to send me, Cristobal Colon, to the said parts of India…with a view that they might be converted to our holy faith…Thus, after having turned out all the Jews from all your kingdoms and lordships…your Highnesses gave orders to me that with a sufficient fleet I should go to the said parts of India…”

Columbus was familiar with persecution and murder before arriving in the New World.  The day before Columbus left Spain, all of the Jews in Spain were required to leave.  During the time that Columbus was preparing for his voyage, an estimated 30,000 Spanish Jews were burned at the stake for their failure to convert to Christianity.  That’s some strategy for evangelism.

The list of gruesome acts attributed to Columbus against the island natives go on and on – rape, torture, sex-trade – things that just don’t jive with “spreading the Gospel” or “bearing the light of Christ” (the meaning of the name “Christopher”), and things that just didn’t make it into Little Johnny’s history books.

I realize I’m treading on sacred ground for some.  It is not my intent to disrespect or cast dispersion on someone who has been revered by so many.  It is my intent to face honestly any evidence uncovered by historians.  The title of the post applies to me.  I don’t know much about history or many of the other areas of study mentioned in the song from which that line is taken.  But I don’t want my preconceived ideas to prevent me from facing whatever truth is revealed.  For some  historians’ perspective, check out these links:

http://www.history.com/topics/columbus-controversy

http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/aug/07/books.spain

Reading Columbus’ own words from his own journal,  and seeing the evidence uncovered by historians, what do we do with this?

1. Remember the line, “Those who don’t remember the past are condemned to repeat it.”

2. Some say Columbus was just a product of his time and culture.  Does that excuse behavior that goes against the character of Jesus?   What am I doing that may characterize me as a “product of my culture” but that contradicts the character of Jesus?

3. How do I see people?  Columbus obviously didn’t see the islanders through the eyes of Jesus.  How about me?  Through whose I eyes do I see people?

4.  In some way, Columbus’ journeys played a part in the founding of the United States – the freest country on earth.  That’s a good thing.   I’m glad to be an American.  I’m also a Christian – living in the kingdom of Christ.   I have to make sure my values and behaviors are determined not by my citizenship in America but by my citizenship in His Kingdom.

Happy Day.