Last week, the Tahlequah City Council took a step that, while largely symbolic, sends an important message to Cherokee Countians of Native ancestry. Finally, after months of discussion, it approved a request to recognize the second Monday of October as Indigenous Peoples Day.
The movement that spurred this action has been years in the making. Although a few may grouse it’s an exercise rooted in the drive to be “politically correct,” it’s actually an attempt to correct historical inaccuracies.
The second Monday in October has long been labeled “Columbus Day” in the U.S., in tribute to the man who purportedly “discovered America.” That’s what our history books from the 1970s and earlier told us, anyway. As it turns out, those history books – written by the white males who dominated society in those days – were quite wrong.
Even those same books that propped up Columbus begrudgingly admitted this land had been inhabited by indigenous peoples before he and his boatloads of Spanish men arrived, seeking lands to conquer on behalf of their king and queen. The same is true of the French, Portugese, Dutch, English and others who ultimately pushed out the natives and took the land for themselves.
In other words, only the most naïve – or bigoted – person could continue to insist Columbus “discovered” America. Some have reworked the claim by saying he “discovered” it as far as Europeans were concerned. But that’s insulting, since it still subtly gives subhuman status to those who were here first. Anyway, it’s likely false, too. More and more evidence has surfaced indicating that, in fact, the Vikings and even a certain “tribe” of Italians – perhaps the Venetians – were here earlier than other Euros.
There’s grumbling in certain circles about how proponents of this action are championing “revisionst” history, of the sort that gives folks like Harriett Tubb newly minted major roles in the anti-slavery movement, or downplays the positive achievements of traditional heroes like Ulysses S. Grant, Thomas Edison, or Christopher Columbus. The “deniers” also view with alarm what they view as the vilification of their heroes.
But forget about political correctness, attempts by liberals to right past wrongs, or furtive plans to create one world government. Forget even trying to assert that neutering Columbus Day is yet another step in the march to take down the white man. According to the U.S. government during the Ellis Island days, Italians weren’t even white.
What should be important to all of us is the truth, no matter whom it makes look bad, and no matter what segment of society has to take a critical look at itself in the aftermath. The truth is, Columbus did not discover America. He came here to conquer it, and he and others came bearing the gifts of diseases that wiped out huge segments of the native population. That means he doesn’t deserve to have his own federal holiday.
The City Council’s action doesn’t strip the status from that day, nor does it – or can it – force recognition of Indigenous Peoples Day upon any business or other institution that chooses to pay homage to Columbus instead. But it makes a powerful and long-awaited statement about justice in this country, and shines a spotlight on who really did “discover” the landmass. And Mayor Jason Nichols and the four councilors should be commended.
And for those still bitter over this unfolding trend, here’s another truth to absorb: Many people, of whatever race, just view the second Monday in October as another paid vacation day. It’s doubtful this change will alter anything in that regard.