Indigenous Peoples’ Day 2018: Reflections on a Divided America

From “Columbus in America”

Indigenous Peoples Day 2018

We live in a divided America.

As a tribal citizen of the Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, from early childhood, I often had uneasy feelings when Columbus Day approached. Even in my youth, I felt sick for the portrayal of Columbus as a hero knowing our country’s constructed history was false. As an adult Columbus Day commercials offering products at a reduced price, also make me feel ill. I know my ancestors paid a premium price because of Columbus.

Activists rally inside the Senate Hart Office Building during a protest in opposition to U.S. Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh on Capitol Hill in Washington, U.S., October 4, 2018. REUTERS/Kevin Lamarque – PBS

The great divide became very evident during the past couple of weeks as hearings were held to confirm Judge Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court. It matters little that most Americans did not want him. The system that is in place allowed his confirmation and soon enough and for many years, Americans will pay for it.

Across this divided nation, from Maine to Alaska, after Dr. Christine Blasey Ford gave testimony before the Senate judiciary committee, there seemed to be hope that things had changed this time. During the past year there were signs that allowed such thinking. The #MeToo movement toppled big names in the movie industry and in journalism. Even Bill Cosby was taken in handcuffs to state prison after being convicted of rape. Yes, signs pointed to a different outcome.

Earlier this year, Maine’s Senator Susan Collins called on Senator Al Franken to resign his U.S. Senate seat after accusations were made involving him inappropriately touching several women during photo sessions. He was never accused of attempted rape. But Senator Franken resigned abruptly without putting up much of a fight.

When accusations about an alleged attempted rape by Brett Kavanaugh came to light 36 years later—in a state that does not have a statute of limitations for rape—we believed Senator Collins would vote “no” on Kavanaugh’s confirmation.

We dared think things would change. They didn’t.

This is also true when it comes to replacing Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Tremendous progress has been made across this divided country. While many cities and towns across America have said goodbye to Columbus and replaced the holiday with Indigenous Peoples’ Day, there is still much work to be done to heal this divided country when it comes to the indigenous people of this land.

Levi Rickert

This progress must begin in schools where students are still taught erroneously Christopher Columbus discovered America: “In fourteen hundred ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue.”

For several decades, the indigenous people of this land have tried to abolish Columbus Day because you cannot “discover” land that was already inhabited. Furthermore, indigenous peoples argue a man who set into motion the mass genocide of the first people of this land should not be honored or glorified.

I must give credit to the cities, states, and universities that have replaced Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples’ Day. Simply replacing Columbus Day for Indigenous Peoples’ Day will not heal the divide that exists for many American Indians and Alaska Natives in the United States.

While progress is being made, just as with the #MeToo Movement, we must recognize as indigenous peoples we cannot dare think we are where we need to be.

Levi Rickert, Prairie Band Potawatomi Nation, is publisher and editor of Native News Online.

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