Yesterday was a national holiday. Some call it Columbus Day, but an increasing amount of people are recognizing it as something else entirely: a day devoted to honoring and celebrating the people who were annihilated and whose land was stolen. A surviving people. A hopeful people. Yesterday was Indigenous People’s Day!
This country really was founded on the subjugation of an entire race. Indigenous folks have not only been atrociously targeted by genocide; their survivors continue to endure acute exploitation under the American government.
In 2008, America experienced a subprime mortgage crisis which led to a major downfall on a global scale. Greedy contractors and financial tycoons took advantage of everyday citizens and, by way of these subprime mortgages, caused the economy’s collapse. Ordinary people were persuaded to sign fraudulent mortgage agreements which would later blindside them into inconceivable real-estate debt.
This kind of extortion is not unfamiliar to America’s history. In the early 1800s, Indigenous people were forced into debt by social systems which required dependency on European "settler" economies, their own economies having been brutally seized and destroyed. As Thomas Jefferson wrote in a letter in 1803, “To exchange lands, which they have to spare and we want, for necessaries, for which we have to spare & they want, we shall push our trading houses, and be glad to see the good & influential individuals among them now in debt, because we observe that when these debts get beyond what the individuals can pay, they become willing to lop them off by a cession of lands...for their interests & their tranquility it is best they should see only the present page of their history.”
It’s a strategic move in the eyes of systemic white privilege and supremacy to deny Indigenous people the right to their own history. When we celebrate the beginning of colonialism on “Columbus Day,” we disrespect the people who cultivated and sustained the land prior to contact. To this day Indigenous people are under attack; we can stand against these kinds of attacks by celebrating and honoring Indigenous folks instead of those who committed genocide and exploitaion against them.
Another example of anti-Indigenous sentiment that deserves our attention is the racializing and antagonizing of primarily Hispanic communities, whose color no less represents their Indigenous heritage. We need to recognize and respect all members of any Indigenous group whether they were victims of the English, the Spanish, the Dutch, the French, or the Portuguese.
But Indigenous groups refuse to be silenced, instead continuing to honor their heritage while fighting every wave of oppression that comes their way. That is why we celebrate Indigenous People’s Day.
Today’s America aspires to offer a freedom it has yet to achieve. We live on stolen and extorted land, and if we aspire to be “the land of the free,” then Native folks must be included in that freedom. On Indigenous People’s Day, we celebrate and honor people who have been and are being attacked in our country, and we observe and dedicate a holiday too often dismissed and forgotten. As the song goes, “This land is my land, this land is your land… This land was made for you and me.”