Celebration or Conversation?


October 14, 2013

Columbus Day.  For some these words mean a day off.  For many though, Columbus Day is a day many folk seem to be racing away before anyone associates them with their heritage.

I imagine by the time most folk read this they will have come across Facebook posts, articles, twitters, and suggestions that Columbus Day should be given up in favor of something like Indigenous Peoples Day.  I think this is something of a miss.

It isn’t that Columbus should be honored.  Nor is it that Indigenous folk should not be honored (Native American Day-September 27 and Native American Month-November).  Instead, I find a simple change of name in favor of another is, well, simple.

We have become a people comfortable with the simple.  Simple does not require more of us.  We get to go about our everyday life without asking questions that might bog us down in moments of contemplation or fits of reflection.  Such is what it means to change Columbus Day into what we think the opposite.

Columbus Day can certainly fade away along with the Great Commission and the literal interpretation of Mathew 28: 18-20a,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

The need to walk away from such celebrative days and conversion beliefs is readily evident in histories such as that of the United States and American indigenous peoples.  Clearly, the historical and ongoing deaths (physical, spiritual, cultural) of North American Indians is so massive, it is wrong (and can the term sinful be too strong?) for the North American community of the United States to take a day off, celebrate, and not talk about it.  But that isn’t the case, is it?  We really don’t talk about this do we?  Instead, society and the Christian church has found it more convenient, far less challenging, and much more simple to take actions like offering an apology now and then for historical misdeeds against Indian folk (one every decade or so since the seventies seems about right).  Changing Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day has similar undertones.

Meaningful change calls for a collective conversation where folk not only grabble with historical atrocities, but also recognize the parents, the heritage, and the landscapes of every person has much more good than bad.  Yet there is fear that jumping into an honest conversation of our collective past will hurt—rightfully so, for it will.  For certainly in the midst of such conversation we are sure to find, both non-Indian and Indian, a lot of stuff we’d rather leave in the past.  Such conversation, with all its complexities, will certainly make some red-in-the-face and cause others to stutter.  However, in the midst of such fear and risk taking, arises richness, community, and friendship, and that seems well worth it.

So, no, I don’t favor dropping Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.  But I do support dropping it in favor of a day where the community collectively honors the need to stop for a moment, sit down with their neighbor, Indian or non-Indian alike, and converse.  I support a day honoring the people of this landscape and their heritage—Narragansett or Puritan or insert your own, I support raising the ire of all today so tomorrow indignation may fade.  I support delving into the complicated so one day our children may simply accept one another as sister and brother.

© David B. Bell 2013


2 thoughts on “Celebration or Conversation?

  1. Only a few weeks ago I heard a quote from Gerald Baker who wrote “The Secrets of Turtle Island.” He said, “All they had to do was ask us!” I want to be a part of the change and healing that is needed for native people to live out their heritage. I have been praying for over a year about beginning a DMin funded by a grant and stipend (I have no financial resources). The goal would be to interview people of the older generation about what they know of their native culture, what they know about spiritual heritage of their people, and what they would want to say to the younger generations. I am very aware of how all of this “knowledge” can be lost. My great grandmother was a native woman who ended up in southern Illinois. Her husband died, her husband’s family took her children (maybe by force) and other families probably adopted the children. The family “knew” her as “the old indian women.” My aunt along with my grandfather visited her in 1926 in order to inform her of my grandmother’s death. My aunt kept this story “secret” until Christmas eve before she died in her sleep that night. She pulled me aside and told me the story about my great grandmother. There is no way to trace my grandmother’s birth or name of her mother/father since the census has her living with her “mother and father” in 1889 but listed as “orphaned.” I feel like I missed an important part of what my family could have known had we learned even a few lessons from my great grandmother. I am certain that if my family was deprived of some understanding, also deprived of understanding would be the US government, the denominations that worked so tirelessly to civilize our relatives, as well as the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who have stated an intent to make a difference. I am an ordained minister with standing of the Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) who wants to honor my spiritual heritage from the Church and from all my “relatives.” Linda Two Hawk Feathers James (Choctaw), 11424 Larimore Rd, St Louis, MO 314-448-9333, twohawkfeathers@yahoo.com . I welcome comments electronically or by mail.

    1. There is great loss of our ancestors story and in turn our own! Thank you for your story, truth, and insight. I hope you have the opportunity to join “Winter Talk” in Tulsa this coming February where we might have a chance to talk.
      Be well, Dave

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