Skip to content

How is Columbus Day still a fucking holiday: The resiliency of White Supremacy in West Michigan

October 8, 2018

“As Native American peoples in this red quarter of Mother Earth, we have no reason to celebrate an invasion that caused the demise of so many of our people, and is still causing destruction today.”

Suzan Shown Harjo – Creek & Cheyenne

Just last week, the City of Cincinnati passed a resolution to recognize Indigenous Peoples’ Day on what is known on the calendar as Columbus Day. This kind of action has been taking place in several cities across the country in recent years, as Native communities and their allies have raised the issue and accurately called out Columbus Day as an ongoing manifestation of White Supremacy. Challenging the legitimacy of Columbus Day is an important anti-racist act, but it must be seen in the larger context of challenging White Supremacy.

It is increasingly imperative that we come to terms with the function that Columbus played in the European conquest/colonization of the what we now call the Americas. Columbus was commissioned by the Spanish Crown and sanctioned by Catholic Church (through a 1493 Papal Bull) to conquer new lands and extract resources  to benefit Spain. Therefore, Columbus not only is the primary symbol of the 500 years of genocide and slavery that has plague the western hemisphere, he is the symbol of political, religious, social and cultural imperialism that continues to the present by a White Supremacist system of Capitalism.

I don’t want to spend much time further exploring these historical dynamics, as I want to get to what it is that White people should be doing confront the legacy of Columbus Day. However, there are a few resources that I would highly recommend for people who want to investigate this history. (See Resources listed at the end of this article.)

Undoing part of White Supremacy: A Proposed Agenda

The list that follows includes not only some clear principles of Racial Justice, but are directed specifically towards White people who inhabit what we refer to as Michigan or as Indigenous people often say, Anishinaabe territory that is currently occupied by the State of Michigan. These are proposed actions and are meant to create discussion, while ultimately leading to concrete action for those of us who have White privilege. While these actions might not seem urgent in the face of recent US politics and with the upcoming election in November, it is critical that we come to terms with the fact that the land we stand on, the land we occupy, was stolen from Native people. In addition to coming to terms with this reality, this admission should inform how we organize for something more than just getting the right leaders elected, because at the end of the day, whoever is elected will still ignore and dismiss the fact that we are currently on stolen land.

Grand Rapids was founded on Settler Colonialism – As a foundational framework, it is vital that we come to terms with the fact that Grand Rapids, like virtually all US cities, were founded on what Native scholar Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz calls Settler Colonialism. Settler Colonialism in West Michigan is the result of a larger White Supremacist strategy that included legal means (treaties), forced relocation, spiritual violence (role of churches) and cultural imperialism, most radically seen with the policy of putting Native children in boarding schools with the goal of, “Killing the Indian, Saving the Man.” 

Get the City of Grand Rapids to denounce Columbus Day – For those of us who claimed to be against White Supremacy and want to engage in acts of racial justice, here is a concrete action to organize around. The fact that the City of Grand Rapids still recognizes Columbus Day means they support the White Supremacist narrative of Settler Colonialism and what was done/is being done to Native people in this area. We need to organize to end Columbus Day in Grand Rapids. If the Native community wants them to rename October 12 Indigenous People’s Day, we should support that, but that is a decision for Native people to make.

Resist Economic Policies that Negatively Impact Native People – Over the next several days there will be Columbus Day sales, which would be equivalent to Himmler Day sales in Germany. This is low hanging fruit, but we should not shop at stores having Columbus Day sales, we should be protesting them. More importantly we need to find out how larger economic policies, particularly extractivist policies impact Native communities. The extraction of oil and gas worldwide disproportionately impacts Native people, which is why Native communities are at the forefront of campaigns to resist projects like the Alberta Tars Sands and all the pipelines connected to such projects. Groups like Idol No More and the Indigenous Environmental Network are groups that we need to be in solidarity with by providing whatever support they are asking for. Nuclear energy should also be resisted, since uranium mining in the US happens on or adjacent to Native land. (see If You Poison Us: Uranium and Native Americans)

Demand that Land be Given Back to Native Nations – As the map here illustrates, the amount of land that was inhabited by Native people before the European Conquest was massive. The US government and State governments have violated virtually all treaties signed with Native Nations (remember, treaties can only be signed between nations) and one of the major aspects of the Native Sovereignty Movement in the US is to reclaim some of the land taken in the process of Settler Colonialism. What this would look like in West Michigan is for Native people to decide, but those of us who claim to support racial justice must make this a priority. Land is justice.

End Native Cultural Appropriation – We have to stop appropriating Native culture and Native spirituality in all its forms. White people are notorious for appropriating Native traditions and making them their own and this has to STOP. Whether we are talking about sports mascots, sweat lodges or any other Native cultural and spiritual traditions, we have to stop appropriating them and challenge other people from doing the same.

Accomplices Not Allies – Lastly, I would highly recommend that people read, Accomplices Not Allies: Abolishing The Ally Industrial Complex. This article/zine is reflective of the important and uncomfortable work that White people need to do if we are to take seriously our role in dismantling White Supremacy.

While this list is short it provides White people with a lot of opportunities to practice racial justice and confront White Supremacy. This has to be our work. In the same way that men have to make the end of rape culture a priority, White people have to make the end of White Supremacy a priority. Let’s get to it.

Some Resources:

The Canary Effect (film) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=lD7x6jryoSA

An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, by Roxanne Dunbar Ortiz

All Our Relations: Native Struggles for Land and Life, by Winona LaDuke

The 500 Years of Resistance Comic Book, by Gord Hill

Custer Died for Your Sins, by Vine Deloria Jr.

A Little Matter of Genocide: Holocaust and Denial in the Americas 1492 to the Present, by Ward Churchill

http://www.idlenomore.ca/

http://www.ienearth.org/

http://nativenewsonline.net/

Comments are closed.

%d bloggers like this: