As October 10 approaches, many cities in the Unites States will revisit what has become an annual dialogue about whether or not cities, states and other municipalities should abolish Columbus Day in favor of celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day. More than a dozen cities nationwide have now codified the notion that the lives and humanity of Indigenous people should be recognized and celebrated, and that the tired, mythical depictions of Columbus as a heroic explorer should be put to rest. It is now broadly understood by many that Columbus was a thieving, murderous individual, whose expeditions led to the enslavement, slaughter, sexual exploitation and eventual annihilation of the Taino people. His early assaults on the Arawak, and Lucayan people, the violence committed against those peoples, and the theft of their land laid the groundwork for the greatest genocide in human memory.
By highlighting the legacy of Christopher Columbus as being either more appealing or historically correct than the true legacies and histories of Indigenous peoples, the United States promotes a culture of historical erasure. US violence against Native people persists to this today, as Natives are statistically more likely to be murdered by police than any other oppressed group in the United States. From gestures of public amnesia, to invisibilizing Native struggle, the US has continued to erase the First people from the history of this continent in order to maintain a mythology that depicts early colonists as brave individuals, who settled a new frontier in pursuit of their own freedom — while making peace and even enjoying Thanksgiving with Native peoples. This fictional representation of colonization is racist, and wholly false, yet it is continually perpetuated in order to maintain the structural power of white supremacy in the Unites States.
The harms that this mythology erases, or at times, excuses, are not simply erased for the sake of maintaining a historic reputation, but also for maintaining the ongoing legacies of these practices.
Through the military industrial complex, foreign lands and resources are taken through force by the United States and its branches of defense. Teenagers and adults are recruited into the Marines, Army, Navy, National Guard, and other branches of military deployment by “expert” recruiters who manipulate those with little access to financial and academic resources, painting the armed forces a path out of poverty. Time and again, this practice has amounted to recruiting people of color to kill other people of color. Indigenous people, as it happens, are not only more likely to be killed by the state than any other group of people in the United States, but are also more likely than any other group to enlist and serve the state.
As a 21-year-old Mexican male from the southwest side of Chicago, I understand violence against Brown communities. I’ve been arrested, prosecuted, jailed, brutalized, almost killed, threatened, harassed and robbed by the Chicago Police Department (CPD) for non-violent offenses such as vandalism (graffiti) and retail theft. These experiences, and my ongoing education in social justice, have taught me that while there is a symbolic value in altering what we officially commemorate on Columbus Day, there will be no great cultural shift without grassroots organizing that directly attacks the structures that oppress Brown and Black people — rather than simply renaming a holiday. Until the erasure of Native history is understood as both personally and globally destructive, there will be no greater respect for Native humanity and culture, and the generational trauma that has scarred Native youth will continue to linger.