Do Unto Others focuses on the Middle East, (nonviolent) social movements, and how I make sense of my place in the world. I'm currently based in Cairo, Egypt doing peacebuilding and community development.

Sunday, October 10, 2010

Columbus Day, but who was he?

There isn't the time to present the facts as to why Columbus should not be celebrated. The facts do support, as the video stated, that Columbus killed great numbers of indigenous people in his quest for resources and fame in 'the Americas.' In the first two years from when Columbus first landed on Haiti, more than 250,000 Indians were killed.

No apology has ever been made to the indigenous people of this country, and there is no mainstream recognition of the crimes that were committed by European settlers (my ancestors -- except for a smidge of the Blackfoot in my blood). Columbus is celebrated in textbooks and by national holidays. Very little progressive, much less conservative, thought is given to how the pained history of the indigenous of this land continues to play out in contemporary social and political realities. They must just be poor and unemployed cause they are lazy, right?

Silence is compliance. Learn something today about who Columbus really was. Read The Peoples History of the United States by Howard Zinn. Learn about the indigenous people whose land you live on. Say something, do something.

Rather than present my own analysis, I will turn it over to Howard Zinn for some insight, and then move to a poem from Rebecca Tababodong, a First Nations activist from Toronto.

Zinn writes:
To emphasize the heroism of Columbus and his successors as navigators and discoverers, and to deemphasize their genocide, is not a technical necessity but an idealogical choice. It serves -- unwittingly -- to justify what was done. My point is not that we must, in telling history, accuse, judge, condemn Columbus in absentia. It is too late for that; it would be a useless scholarly excercise in morality. But the easy acceptance of atrocities as a deplorable but necessary price to pay for progress -- that is still with us. One reason these atrocities are still with us is that we have learned to bury them in a mass of other facts, as radioactive wastes are buried in containers in the earth. We have learned to give them exactly the same proportion of attention that teachers and writers often give them in the most respectable of classrooms and textbooks. This learned sense of moral proportion, coming from the apparent objectivity of the scholar, is accepted more easily than when it comes from politicians at press conferences. It is therefore more deadly.
Zinn continues:
The treatment of heroes (Columbus) and their victims (the Arawaks) -- the quiet acceptance of conquest and murder in the name of progress -- is only one aspect of a certain approach to history, in which the past is told from the point of view of governments, conquerors, diplomats, leaders.
Finally, here is Rebecca Tababodong, a member of Wasauksing First Nation, poet, activist and film maker. She lives in Toronto. The poem is called Reconciliation.

We are waking up to our history
from a forced slumber
We are breathing it into our lungs
so it will be part of us again
It will make us angry at first
because we will see how much you stole from us
and for how long you watched us suffer
we will see how you see us
and how when we copied your ways
it killed our own.

We will cry and cry and cry
because we can never be the same again
But we will go home to cry
and we will see ourselves in this huge mess
and we will gently whisper the circle back
and it will be old and it will be new
Then we will breathe our history back to you
you will feel how strong and alive it is
and you will feel yourself become a part of it
And it will shock you at first
because it is too big to see all at once
and you won’t want to believe it
you will see how you see us
and all the disaster in your ways
how much we lost

And you will cry and cry and cry
because we can never be the same again
But we will cry with you
and we will see ourselves in this huge mess
and we will gently whisper the circle back
and it will be old and it will be new.

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