Standing in solidarity

Africans and Native Americans: Celebrating a shared history

Juliana Norwood | 11/25/2016, midnight
With yesterday’s Thanksgiving holiday, the recent celebration of Columbus Day, and the ongoing fight to the block the Dakota Access ...

With yesterday’s Thanksgiving holiday, the recent celebration of Columbus Day, and the ongoing fight to the block the Dakota Access Pipeline from being built through the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation in North Dakota, many of the issues that Native Americans have always confronted have been once again thrusted into the spotlight.

With the seemingly never-ending plight of African Americans in this country also being highlighted by the influx of overt racism under the influence of the new president-elect, these two severely disenfranchised groups may begin to find they are much more alike than they’ve before realized.

According to the Library of Congress, the first celebration of Columbus Day took place on the 300th anniversary of his first voyage on Oct. 12, 1792, when New York’s Columbian Order—also known as the Society of St. Tammany—held an event to commemorate the anniversary of Columbus’ landing. After that, various celebrations around the country started popping up to honor Columbus’ Italian and Catholic heritage.

The Knights of Columbus, an international Roman Catholic fraternal benefit society, began lobbying state legislatures to declare Oct. 12 a holiday. They succeeded in getting Colorado to agree in 1907 and New York in 1909. Then, in 1934, President Franklin Delano Roosevelt designated Oct. 12 a national holiday.

South Dakota was the first state to rename the federal holiday as Native American Day in 1990, and Minneapolis and Seattle were the first major cities to change Columbus Day observance to Indigenous Peoples Day in 2014. In 2015, the state of Alaska recognized the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, as well as a number of cities including Albuquerque, N. M.; Lawrence, Kan.; Portland, Ore.; Anadarko, Oklahoma; Olympia, Washington; Alpena, Mich.; and Bexar County, Texas. Hawaii doesn’t recognize Columbus Day as a holiday at all.

According to Southern California Public Radio, Los Angeles might not be too far behind in making the switch. The L.A. City Council is currently considering a proposal to replace the federal holiday with a local one celebrating Indigenous peoples.

Councilman Mitch O’Farrell supports the measure. He says Christopher Columbus not only didn’t “discover” America, he’s responsible for the subjugation of countless Native Americans.

“They were there before any of us, and the incredible sacrifices, the decimation of their cultures, the separations within the families that the missions were responsible for—it’s a pretty ugly, depressing history,” said O’Farrell.

Standing with Standing Rock

The conflict at Standing Rock, which has taken place for a number of months, continues to gain in momentum and as members of other native tribes and those who support their fight descend on the reservation to protest. Most recently, police were recorded using water cannons on non-violent protesters (or “water-protectors’ as they are being called) in 27 degree weather, which is undeniably inhumane. One familiar group that is standing in solidarity with these Indigenous peoples is Black Lives Matter.

“In the state of North Dakota, there is a movement for all of us. A movement for the recognition that water is life. A movement led by warriors, women, elders, and youth. A movement made possible by the actions taken by those who came before us, steeped in the wisdom of elders. A movement anchored by Indigenous women who put their bodies on the line for our liberation,” said the group in a recent statement.