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Monday, October 12, 2015

Revisiting Columbus Day

Today was Columbus Day, observed throughout the Americas in one form or another as well as by Spain and Italy. It became a federal holiday in 1937 after decades of lobbying by Italian Americans, over five million of whom immigrated here. The holiday is still a big event in cities like New York and San Francisco that have a strong Italian heritage. (It is hardly noticed in Raleigh, aside from closure of post offices and banks.)

The time has come to revision Columbus Day as Indigenous Peoples' Day. As explanation, I have no ill will toward Italians. I admit that Columbus' discovery was a tour de force of navigation, seamanship, and courage. He changed not only the Americas and western Europe but also Africa and parts of Asia that were later targeted for the same colonial treatment as the Americas. Although a biographer like Samuel Eliot Morison might say off the record that Columbus was a prick, people who change the world usually are. It's easy to debunk the Columbus myths. But the more compelling reason to revision Columbus Day is that native Americans deserve recognition not only for the damage done to them by Europeans — damage that persists to this day — but also for what native Americans can contribute to our future. An example is their love of Creation and their desire to care for it. Those of us in our 60s remember the impact of one TV spot. Sentimental, sure, but the focus on care of Creation remains central.

Many cities and towns, including nearby Carrboro, N.C., have joined the movement for Indigenous Peoples' Day. I hope that more cities and towns in this state will follow, given the heritage of native Americans here.

Of course, indigenous peoples in the Americas are not above criticism themselves. Many of the tribes waged war on other tribes. Some performed human sacrifices, etc. We don't have to celebrate those faults any more than we have to celebrate the faults of colonizing Europeans.