Today is a day of remembrance referred to by two different names that are fundamentally paradoxical in nature—the widely recognized national holiday that is Columbus Day and the growing movement to reclaim it as Indigenous Peoples Day.
In October of 1492, Christopher Columbus landed in the Americas, marking the beginning of over 500 years of subjugation and genocide of indigenous people that many argue continues to this day. Five centuries after Columbus set foot in North America, the United States is experiencing a growing movement aimed at re-framing the way history is taught and understood by lifting up the voices, experiences and contributions of historically marginalized and oppressed people.
Indigenous Peoples Day serves to correct the rhetoric that Columbus “discovered” the continent and end the celebration of men who raped, murdered and enslaved countless indigenous people. Instead, the holiday serves to recognize the customs, traditions and resilience of the Native people who have lived in the Americas for thousands of years.
In this light, a number of states and cities have moved to re-brand the day of tribute. South Dakota has been celebrating Columbus Day as Native American Day since 1990. Hawaii has always referred to the day as Discoverers’ Days in honor of the people who came to the islands from Polynesia. This year, 23 new localities will be observing Indigenous Peoples Day for the first time.
The conversation over re-framing American history extends beyond Christopher Columbus to other historical figures who represent Euro-white supremacy and the American slave trade. In August, thousands of white supremacists gathered in Charlottesville, Virginia to protest the local City Council’s decision to remove a statue of Robert E. Lee from a town park, a decision that many states and localities have taken action on since then.
Today, Native Americans continue to be denied sovereignty over the land they were forced on to. For over half a year, thousands of Water Protectors representing over 280 Tribes protested the construction of the 1,200 mile, $3.8 billion Dakota Access pipeline, arguing that the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe was not properly consulted on the project, which passes through their treaty lands, sacred sites and burial grounds. A spill could contaminate the Tribe’s water supply, a reason the pipeline’s path was moved from the capital of Bismarck to its current route.
In January, President Trump signed an executive action to advance the construction of both the Dakota Access and Keystone XL pipelines, and in February, Water Protectors were forced off the land by law enforcement so the project could move forward. According to his financial disclosure forms, Trump owned stock in Energy Transfer Partners (ETP), the company that built the Dakota Access pipeline, through at least mid-2016, and the company’s chief executive, Kelcy Warren, donated $100,000 to his campaign.
Since June 1, the pipeline has carried nearly 470,000 barrels of oil a day under the Missouri River, half a mile upstream from the Tribe’s water supply. The Army Corps of Engineering is conducting an additional environmental study of the project after a federal judge ruled that they had not completed a thorough enough assessment of how an oil leak could disproportionately impact the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe. That judge is currently considering whether or not to halt use of the pipeline until the Army Corps assessment is completed in April 2018.
Media Resources: The Independent 10/9/17; US News and World Report 10/6/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 2/24/17, 8/14/17.