By Malinda Maynor Lowery
Increasingly, Columbus Day is giving people pause.
More and more towns and cities across the country are electing to celebrate Indigenous Peoples' Day as an alternative to — or in addition to — the day intended to honor Columbus' voyages.
Critics of the change see it as just another example of political correctness run amok — another flash point of the culture wars.
As a scholar of Native American history — and a member of the Lumbee Tribe of North Carolina — I know the story is more complex than that.
The growing recognition and celebration of Indigenous Peoples' Day actually represents the fruits of a concerted, decades long effort to recognize the role of indigenous people in the nation's history.
Columbus Day is a relatively new federal holiday.
In 1892, a joint congressional resolution prompted President Benjamin Harrison to mark the "discovery of America by Columbus," in part because of "the devout faith of the discoverer and for the divine care and guidance which has directed our history and so abundantly blessed our people."
Europeans invoked God's will to impose their will on indigenous people. So it seemed logical to call on God when establishing a holiday celebrating that conquest, too.
Of course, not all Americans considered themselves blessed in 1892. That same year, a lynching forced black journalist Ida B. Wells to flee her home town of Memphis. And while Ellis Island had opened in January of that year, welcoming European immigrants, Congress had already banned Chinese immigration a decade prior, subjecting Chinese people living in the U.S. to widespread persecution.
And then there was the government's philosophy towards the country's Native Americans, which Army Colonel Richard Henry Pratt so unforgettably articulated in 1892: "All the Indian there is in the race should be dead. Kill the Indian in him, and save the man."
It took another 42 years for Columbus Day to formally become a federal holiday, thanks to a 1934 decree by President Franklin D. Roosevelt.
He was responding, in part, to a campaign by the Knights of Columbus, a national Catholic charity founded to provide services to Catholic immigrants. Over time, its agenda expanded to include advocacy for Catholic social values and education.
When Italians first arrived in the U.S., they were targets of marginalization and discrimination. Officially celebrating Christopher Columbus — an Italian Catholic — became one way to affirm the new racial order that would emerge in the U.S. in the 20th century, one in which the descendants of diverse ethnic European immigrants became "white" Americans.
Indigenous People Power
But some Americans started to question why Indigenous people — who'd been in the country all along — didn't have their own holiday.
In the 1980s, Colorado's American Indian Movement chapter began protesting the celebration of Columbus Day. In 1989, activists in South Dakota persuaded the state to replace Columbus Day with Native American Day. Both states have large Native populations that played active roles in the Red Power Movement in the 1960s and 1970s, which sought to make American Indian people more politically visible.
Then, in 1992, at the 500th anniversary of Columbus' first voyage, American Indians in Berkeley, California, organized the first "Indigenous Peoples' Day," a holiday the city council soon formally adopted. Berkeley has since replaced its commemoration of Columbus with a celebration of indigenous people.
The holiday can also trace its origins to the United Nations. In 1977, indigenous leaders from around the world organized a United Nations conference in Geneva to promote indigenous sovereignty and self-determination. Their first recommendation was "to observe October 12, the day of so-called 'discovery' of America, as an International Day of Solidarity with the Indigenous Peoples of the Americas." It took another 30 years for their work to be formally recognized in the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, which was adopted in September 2007.
Today, cities with significant native populations, like Seattle, Portland and Los Angeles, now celebrate either Native American Day or Indigenous Peoples' Day. And states like Hawaii, Nevada, Minnesota, Alaska and Maine have also formally recognized their Native populations with similar holidays. Many Native governments, like the Cherokee and Osage in Oklahoma, either don't observe Columbus Day or have replaced it with their own holiday.
But you'll also find commemorations in less likely places. Alabama celebrates Native American Day alongside Columbus Day, as does North Carolina, which, with a population of more than 120,000 Native Americans, has the largest number of Native Americans of any state east of the Mississippi River.
Just last year, the town of Carrboro, North Carolina, issued a resolution to celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. The resolution noted the fact that the town of 21,000 had been built on indigenous land and that it was committed to "protect, respect and fulfill the full range of inherent human rights," including those of indigenous people.
While Columbus Day affirms the story of a nation created by Europeans for Europeans, Indigenous Peoples Day emphasizes Native histories and Native people — an important addition to the country's ever-evolving understanding of what it means to be American.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
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Maine became at least the seventh state in the U.S. to replace Columbus Day with a day honoring America's first inhabitants on Friday when Governor Janet T. Mills signed a bill to renaming it Indigenous Peoples' Day, The New York Times reported.
Oregon, Minnesota, South Dakota, Alaska, North Carolina and New Mexico have all renamed the holiday that falls on the second Monday of October, as have at least 130 cities and towns.
'We are graciously appreciative of this measure that reflects a state that feels more welcoming and inclusive," Penobscot Nation Ambassador Maulian Dana said at the signing, according to a statement from the governor's office. "As the original stewards of these lands and waters we are happy that our ancestral ties and contributions are validated and celebrated instead of silenced and ignored by the previous holiday that glorified the attempted genocide of our Nations. Our past can be painful but our present and future can be brighter with acts of unity and honesty."
HAPPENING NOW: @GovJanetMills signing a bill to change Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the state of Main… https://t.co/Asgh1CAIAI— Lauren Healy (@Lauren Healy)1556288259.0
There has been a growing movement to change the name of Columbus Day, which has been a federal holiday since 1934. Some activists say that celebrating it ignores the atrocities committed by Christopher Columbus and other European explorers against the indigenous people they encountered. A study released early this year found that so many Native Americans died from a combination of massacres and disease in the 16th and 17th centuries — around 56 million— that the earth's climate actually cooled 0.15 degrees Celsius as agricultural land was abandoned back to forests and other plants.
"Our history is by no means perfect. But, for too long, it has been written and presented in a way that fails to acknowledge our shortcomings," Mills said in a statement. "There is power in a name and in who we choose to honor. Today, we take another step in healing the divisions of the past, in fostering inclusiveness, in telling a fuller, deeper history, and in bringing the State and Maine's tribal communities together to build a future shaped by mutual trust and respect."
The bill to rename the day was sponsored by Portland Representative Benjamin Collings.
"I was privileged to bring this bill forward on behalf of Maine's tribal community," Collings said at the signing. "Maine's tribes have played a vital role in building our state and will continue to influence our future. I am grateful to Gov. Mills for signing this bill today and paying tribute to those who truly deserve it."
Dana told WGME that she had not expected the change to happen. The bill had failed to pass twice before.
"It's hard in a state like Maine where we do have a lot of racial tensions, we do have a lot of misunderstandings and a lot of gaps between groups, I think," Dana said.
The signing comes about a month and a half after Maine became the first state in the nation to stop using indigenous names and mascots in its schools, according to The Bangor Daily News. That was made official when the Skowhegan school board voted to stop using the nickname "Indians" for the district's high school on March 7.
"We can't rewrite history, but we can make it." board member Derek Ellis said of the vote.
✊🏽we have removed the Skowhegan Indian mascot. https://t.co/PQW2lwGER3— Penobscot Ambassador Maulian Dana (@Penobscot Ambassador Maulian Dana)1552133590.0
South Dakota was the first state to abandon the Columbus Day name in 1990, replacing it with Native Americans' Day, according to The Argus Leader. Other states have adopted different solutions. Hawaii calls the day Discoverers' Day in honor of the ancient Polynesians who first arrived on the islands. Washington State honors no federal holiday on the second Monday of October, and Oklahoma Governor Kevin Stitt signed a bill this month dedicating the day both to Columbus and indigenous Americans, The New York Times reported. A bill to switch the day to Indigenous Peoples' Day has passed the Vermont state legislature but is yet to be signed.
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Each product featured here has been independently selected by the writer. If you make a purchase using the links included, we may earn commission.
The bright patterns and recognizable designs of Waterlust's activewear aren't just for show. In fact, they're meant to promote the conversation around sustainability and give back to the ocean science and conservation community.
Each design is paired with a research lab, nonprofit, or education organization that has high intellectual merit and the potential to move the needle in its respective field. For each product sold, Waterlust donates 10% of profits to these conservation partners.
Eye-Catching Designs Made from Recycled Plastic Bottles
waterlust.com / @abamabam
The company sells a range of eco-friendly items like leggings, rash guards, and board shorts that are made using recycled post-consumer plastic bottles. There are currently 16 causes represented by distinct marine-life patterns, from whale shark research and invasive lionfish removal to sockeye salmon monitoring and abalone restoration.
One such organization is Get Inspired, a nonprofit that specializes in ocean restoration and environmental education. Get Inspired founder, marine biologist Nancy Caruso, says supporting on-the-ground efforts is one thing that sets Waterlust apart, like their apparel line that supports Get Inspired abalone restoration programs.
"All of us [conservation partners] are doing something," Caruso said. "We're not putting up exhibits and talking about it — although that is important — we're in the field."
Waterlust not only helps its conservation partners financially so they can continue their important work. It also helps them get the word out about what they're doing, whether that's through social media spotlights, photo and video projects, or the informative note card that comes with each piece of apparel.
"They're doing their part for sure, pushing the information out across all of their channels, and I think that's what makes them so interesting," Caruso said.
And then there are the clothes, which speak for themselves.
Advocate Apparel to Start Conversations About Conservation
waterlust.com / @oceanraysphotography
Waterlust's concept of "advocate apparel" encourages people to see getting dressed every day as an opportunity to not only express their individuality and style, but also to advance the conversation around marine science. By infusing science into clothing, people can visually represent species and ecosystems in need of advocacy — something that, more often than not, leads to a teaching moment.
"When people wear Waterlust gear, it's just a matter of time before somebody asks them about the bright, funky designs," said Waterlust's CEO, Patrick Rynne. "That moment is incredibly special, because it creates an intimate opportunity for the wearer to share what they've learned with another."
The idea for the company came to Rynne when he was a Ph.D. student in marine science.
"I was surrounded by incredible people that were discovering fascinating things but noticed that often their work wasn't reaching the general public in creative and engaging ways," he said. "That seemed like a missed opportunity with big implications."
Waterlust initially focused on conventional media, like film and photography, to promote ocean science, but the team quickly realized engagement on social media didn't translate to action or even knowledge sharing offscreen.
Rynne also saw the "in one ear, out the other" issue in the classroom — if students didn't repeatedly engage with the topics they learned, they'd quickly forget them.
"We decided that if we truly wanted to achieve our goal of bringing science into people's lives and have it stick, it would need to be through a process that is frequently repeated, fun, and functional," Rynne said. "That's when we thought about clothing."
Support Marine Research and Sustainability in Style
To date, Waterlust has sold tens of thousands of pieces of apparel in over 100 countries, and the interactions its products have sparked have had clear implications for furthering science communication.
For Caruso alone, it's led to opportunities to share her abalone restoration methods with communities far and wide.
"It moves my small little world of what I'm doing here in Orange County, California, across the entire globe," she said. "That's one of the beautiful things about our partnership."
Check out all of the different eco-conscious apparel options available from Waterlust to help promote ocean conservation.
Melissa Smith is an avid writer, scuba diver, backpacker, and all-around outdoor enthusiast. She graduated from the University of Florida with degrees in journalism and sustainable studies. Before joining EcoWatch, Melissa worked as the managing editor of Scuba Diving magazine and the communications manager of The Ocean Agency, a non-profit that's featured in the Emmy award-winning documentary Chasing Coral.
By Rosalyn R. LaPier
Alaska has a "linguistic emergency," according to the Alaskan Gov. Bill Walker. A report warned earlier this year that all of the state's 20 Native American languages might cease to exist by the end of this century, if the state did not act.
American policies, particularly in the six decades between the 1870s and 1930s, suppressed Native American languages and culture. It was only after years of activism by indigenous leaders that the Native American Languages Act was passed in 1990, which allowed for the preservation and protection of indigenous languages. Nonetheless, many Native American languages have been on the verge of extinction for the past many years.
Languages carry deep cultural knowledge and insights. So, what does the loss of these languages mean in terms of our understanding of the world.
Embedded in indigenous languages, in particular, is knowledge about ecosystems, conservation methods, plant life, animal behavior and many other aspects of the natural world.
In Hawaiian traditions and belief systems, for example, the tree snails were connected to "the realm of the gods." Hawaiian royalty revered them, which protected them from over-harvesting.
The Bishop Museum in Honolulu holds a shell necklace, or lei, of Queen Lili'uokalani, the last monarch of the Kingdom of Hawaii. It is made from tree snail shells, which signifies the high rank of female royalty. Wearing a shell was believed to provide "mana," or spiritual power and a way to understand ancestral knowledge.
Many of these snails are now extinct and those remaining are threatened with extinction. Scientists are working with Hawaiian language experts to learn about the belief systems that once helped protect them and their habitats.
A Tool for Doctors
Words in indigenous languages can have cultural meanings, that can be lost during translation. Understanding the subtle differences can often shift one's perspective about how indigenous people thought about the natural world.
For example, as an indigenous scholar of the environment, I led a team some years ago of language experts, elders and scholars from Montana and Alberta, Canada, to create a list of Blackfeet words, called a lexicon, of museum objects. The elders I worked with noted that the English word "herb," which was used to describe most plant specimens within museums, did not have the same meaning in Blackfeet.
In English, the word "herb" can have numerous meanings, including a seasoning for food. The closest English word to herb in Blackfeet is "aapíínima'tsis." The elders explained this word means "a tool that doctors use."
The hope is that the lexicon and audio files recorded in the Blackfeet language that our research helped create, might assist future scholars access the embedded meanings in languages.
Saving Vanishing Languages
Many Native American communities in the United States are now working to save these cultural insights and revitalize their languages.
In Wisconsin, an Ojibwe language school called "Waadookodaading,"translated literally as "a place where people help each other," immerses its students in the environmental knowledge embedded in the language.
The Ojibwe believe that theirs is a language of action. And the best way for children to learn is by doing and observing the natural world. Each spring, for example, the students go into the woods to gather maple sap from trees, which is processed into maple syrup and sugar. These students learn about indigenous knowledge of plants, their habitats and uses.
Language loss can be considered as extreme as the extinction of a plant or an animal. Once a language is gone, the traditional knowledge it carries also gets erased from society.
Efforts are now underway worldwide to remind people of this reality. The United Nations has designated 2019 as the "International Year of Indigenous Languages" in order to raise awareness of indigenous languages as holders of "complex systems of knowledge" and encourage nation states to work toward their revitalization.
The loss of indigenous languages is not Alaska's concern alone. It affects all of us.
Reposted with permission from our media associate The Conversation.
On Indigenous People’s Day, a Look at the Movement to Revive Native Foodways and How Western Science Might Support—For a Change
By Ricardo Salvador
"Tribes are not sovereign unless they can feed themselves," noted Ross Racine, executive director of the Intertribal Agriculture Council. This is such a brutal fact that that the destruction of Native foodways was used by the U.S. government to effectively weaken, destroy and remove Native people from their ancestral lands during the period of Western colonization, genocide, expansion and cultural undermining that ran from the 17th into the present century (in the form of "Food Distribution Programs," largely the food that has made many Native communities both dependent and among the sickest in the world.)
It may be a legitimate question to some why a scientific organization wants to support dismantlement of the social inequities built into our food systems. Food and food production are fundamentally important to Native communities' health, well-being, economic resilience, cultural heritage and self-preservation. This means that restoring food sovereignty to Native communities requires the re-introduction of indigenous food production, distribution practices and infrastructure, in concert with the re-valuation of traditional ecological knowledge that has long been sidelined from Western notions of science.
The legacy of social and racial inequities woven throughout our food systems cannot be addressed without acknowledging the history of violent displacement and marginalization of Native American and Alaska Native communities, and the appropriation of their land and resources. In its most intensive and intentional phase, during the 60-year period now known as "the Indian Wars," from 1830-1890, the federal government massacred tens of thousands of Native peoples and "removed" surviving communities to isolated "reservations." Entire ways of life and foodways were intentionally destroyed. Native communities were forced to become dependent on an exogenous food system that funneled the most unhealthful foodstuffs toward reservations and further eroded knowledge about native foods and their production and preparation. These were overt control measures, including strict federally imposed limits on fishing, foraging and hunting on Native lands. As a consequence of these measures, Native self-provisioning, traditional food knowledge and health were destroyed, and those communities now suffer some of the highest rates of diabetes and obesity in the country and the world.
Indigenous methods of scientific inquiry have their best chance to find a home in our nation's "1994 Land-Grant Institutions"—colleges and universities established with federal resources to support research, education and extension related to food and agriculture. Dr. Sonny Ramaswamy, then director of USDA's National Institute of Food and Agriculture (NIFA), stated that these tribal colleges and universities TCUs "teach in a cultural context that [empowers] students by drawing on the strength of their peoples' history, indigenous knowledge, and traditions." Yet research at TCUs is supported by a NIFA funding stream that is entirely separate from, and inferior to, that of other land grant institutions. Therefore, in recent years, a coalition of tribes, tribal organizations, and non-profits have come together to demand increased federal funding for NIFA Tribal Programs. In addition, the pressure from dominant culture is to emulate the pattern and ostensive "success" of agricultural approaches that have been developed on the basis of western science. Instead, the leadership and autonomy of Native people must be acknowledged and supported to recapture and reconstruct their traditional knowledge of agriculture, gathering and food, together with their connection to health and wellbeing, and to integrate that knowledge with Western approaches in a manner of their own choosing.
The White Earth Food Recovery Project
One of the more significant things I ever did while on the faculty of the Agronomy Department at Iowa State University happened when a Native friend, Winona LaDuke (Ojibwe), told me about a project she was involved with to revive the foodways of her father's people at the White Earth reservation in Minnesota. She told me how they knew that corn was central to the polycultural food system of their ancestors, and that they knew that to recover their physical, cultural and economic health they had to start by reconstructing their food system with their native species. But these had been lost to colonization and cultural destruction. She asked whether I knew how to get hold of seeds that were as close as possible to Ojibwe corn.
I called my buddy, Mark Millard, a geneticist who was the maize curator for the USDA's Plant Introduction Center just down the road from my office. I still vividly remember the chills I felt when I repeated Winona's question to Mark and he responded: "How close do you want to get to White Earth Ojibwe corn?" It turned out that in the 1920s, the USDA had collected seed of that very corn and dutifully reproduced it in the intervening 80 years. There was soon a package of precious seed on its way to Winona and the White Earth food recovery project was on its way.
Such efforts to reclaim food sovereignty as a way to recover health, in all its dimensions, among the nation's survivors of a traumatic campaign of Native American genocide is gaining momentum, and particularly so among the TCU network, known colloquially as "Native American Land Grant Colleges and Universities," or even more eccentrically, the "1994s." Ironies are plentiful in explanation. As Europeans colonized North America from the east coast westward, they established infrastructure and institutions to facilitate their settlement project.
Almost everyone has at least a glancing acquaintance with the fact that establishment of the transcontinental railroad was a keystone of this project. This was financed by a "land-grant scheme" whereby the federal government killed and removed Native inhabitants to "clear the way" for settlers, then gave itself permission to apportion the "empty land" (the popularly beloved first-person chronicler of these developments, Laura Ingalls Wilder, famously described her family's entry into today's Kansas with the words: "There were no people here, only Indians.") The federal "land-grants" were used by railroad companies not only for right-of-way but for sale to raise cash to support their operations. Similarly, the federal government "granted" land to states to establish the colleges that were to generate knowledge for white farmers to subdue the prairies and other conquered lands so that both Native people and vegetation could be replaced with more "productive" alternatives.
The resulting institutions, today's "Land Grant Universities," thereby have a complicated history. In the history of education, they were the first established expressly so that a higher education was accessible to the salt of the earth, and was no longer the exclusively for society's privileged, but it was also clear who these colonizer institutions were for. They were not for Natives, and they were not for African Americans, both of whom were the victims and subordinates of colonization. It is for this reason that a completely separate network was subsequently established to "serve" the African-American population of farmers and rural citizens, now known as the "1890 Land Grants." It is important to remember that this underscores exclusion than rather social equity, since they were established to reinforce that African Americans were not welcome (in the Southern U.S.) within the exclusive hallways of the original Land Grant universities (now known as "the 1862s," for the year their authorizing legislation was passed.) It will surprise no one that compared with the 1862 Universities, the Crown Jewels of the Land Grant University system, the 1890 and 1994 counterparts are egregiously underfunded.
What Must "Science" Now Do?
Which brings us to the "1994 Land Grants." It took that long for the federal government to recognize the exclusion of the continent's first peoples from its tradition of public support for higher education. But that support historically had been in an effort to destroy Native life, knowledge and culture, acknowledging it only as an item of study. For Native people, of course, the object is instead to revive the thriving worldview and knowledge system that sustained their forebears for millennial generations.
So this is where the federal government is now with this project: The federal government funds research, education, and extension activities at 1994 institutions through the Tribal College Research Grant Program of the National Institute of Food and Agriculture. The program is to help 1994 institutions become centers of scientific inquiry and learning for remote and rural reservation communities, with an emphasis on research questions generated by Native community interests. Projects funded through this program may help a tribe "improve bison herd productivity, discover whether traditional plants can play a role in managing diabetes, or control invasive species," among other areas of emphasis. Alongside the research program, the Tribal College Extension Program supports informal, community-based learning, which may include farmer education, youth development, and rural entrepreneurship.
In the summer of 2017, the Native Farm Bill Coalition—made up of 22 tribes, tribal organizations, and non-profits—published a report assessing risks and opportunities for Native communities in the 2018 farm bill. The authors acknowledge that tribal organizations have "struggled to rally the support of tribes to effectively advocate for greater Native inclusion in previous Farm Bills," and present the report as a springboard to amplify tribal voices in the federal food and agriculture policy process. The report's recommendations, include increased funding for extension services for tribes, earmarked funding for tribal groups within existing NIFA research grant programs, and new research programs at the USDA's Agricultural Research Service, that focus on the important and increasing role that traditional knowledge plays in the environmental, natural resources, ecological, food science, nutrition, and health research.
Science is a human endeavor. It does not exist without humans, and it serves the purposes of humans. It served the colonizing and genocidal project of the U.S. in several ways. The Union of Concerned Scientists seeks to put science in service of the project to recover the dignity and viability of lifeways that respect and sustain Native wisdom and healthful, thriving cultures. For this reason, my team and I will be working to establish a relationship with leaders, faculty and fellow scientists at the nation's Native American Land Grant Colleges and Universities, and to learn how me might become part of a project that aligns our science and intentions with a completely different direction and outcome than the perverted precedent we all must thoughtfully reflect on each October on Indigenous People's Day.
Columbus, Ohio, cancels #ColumbusDay to honor veterans instead, as cities and states replace the holiday with Indig… https://t.co/AA8TMqsAcF— USA TODAY (@USA TODAY)1538998210.0