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To critics of Columbus Day — Get lost

TOM BURGUM
Staff Columnist
burgum@lbknews.com

Happy Columbus Day to the few remaining Americans who are grateful that Christopher Columbus accidentally discovered the Bahamas and then later stumbled across the larger land mass to the west. That land mass turned out to be us, if you’re wondering.

Columbus Day received a bit of a mixed reception even at the beginning but now as the West and the United States seem determined to commit cultural suicide, celebration of Christopher’s accomplishments is under attack. According to CNN, “The shift is part of broader attempts to clarify the Italian explorer’s role in American history and connect indigenous culture to something other than sports teams, Halloween costumes and pop culture appropriation.”

CNN is being kind. What the critics of Columbus Day really mean is the shift is part of broader attempts to display the painful history of colonialism, enslavement, discrimination and land grabs that Columbus allegedly initiated in the new world. This is the sort of exercise enjoyed by some of our fellow citizens who, while not ever intending to reject the wealth and comfort afforded by America, find it comforting to engage in painless exercises of contrition so as to obviate the need for any real sacrifice.

President Benjamin Harrison kicked off the current ruckus when he issued the first proclamation encouraging American to celebrate Columbus Day. Things went along nicely and President Franklin Roosevelt made it a federal holiday in 1937. His approval numbers were down and the Knights of Columbus, a hazardous mixture of Italians and Irish Catholic, had been carrying on an extensive lobbying campaign and Roosevelt, an unobtrusive Episcopalian, likely saw no harm in giving some valued constituents a day to celebrate the discovery of the New World.

In 1971, President Richard Nixon made Columbus Day an official holiday. Given the mess in Vietnam along with a tanking economy and a looming election, and being unaware the Democrats were destined to nominate George McGovern, he was looking for friends wherever he could find them. At this point, Columbus and the Italians had their day and the Irish had a goodly number of parades to march in so everyone seemed satisfied.

It began to unravel in 1992 when Berkeley, California, adopted the first Indigenous People’s Day. Of course it had to be Berkeley, a city dedicated to the performance of really stupid, futile gestures. South Dakota was already on board having celebrated Native American Day instead of Columbus Day since 1990. That seems a bit odd because South Dakotans have tenuous relations with Indians. Something about the Sioux wanting the Black Hills back and the South Dakotans saying, “You’ve got your Native American Day, isn’t that enough?”

The movement to honor indigenous people instead of Columbus has gained some momentum. Cities in Oregon, Minnesota, Washington, Michigan and New Mexico  recently signed on to the new, enlightened way of celebrating the second Monday in October. But, there is a down side. It gives a voice to those dedicated to doing things that really make them feel good whether or not whatever they are doing actually does any good for anyone.

In Portland, Oregon, CNN quotes Multnomah County Chair Deborah Kafoury, who in a feel-good moment bleated out, “Reclaiming the second Monday in October as Indigenous People’s Day makes a powerful statement. It says, we are no longer going to celebrate a time of genocide, but instead we will honor the land we live on and the people who have been here since the beginning.” Any celebration that encourages people to spew such meaningless mish-mash should be avoided by people of sensitivity and good will.

May I say to Ms. Kafoury: Until you are ready to actually work to stem the tide of alcohol and drug dependence that threatens to envelop all too many Indian reservations; leave Columbus alone and go hector someone else.

Note to all the shrill idiots who think eliminating Indian nicknames is the key to helping Indians, or Native Americans, or Indigenous People, or whoever. No real reservation Indian who is invested in improving the lot of his people much cares about whether the University of North Dakota called their sports teams, “The Fighting Sioux” or whether St John’s University had the “ The Red Men,” or whether the Washington NFL entry is called the “Redskins.” Well, maybe the name Redskins pushes the edge of the envelope a bit.

I represented the Turtle Mountain Band of Chippewa Indians in 1995 and just prior to meeting with the tribal leaders in North Dakota was asked by the Tribal Chairman to bring 30 Cleveland Indian hats for their baseball team. (The Cleveland Indians, long an embarrassment to real Indians, were quite good that year.) He told me the reservation Legion baseball team wanted the hat with the logo of Chief Wahoo which was, at the time, the subject of some protests in Washington. He told me in no uncertain terms that protesting this was the sort of thing was something. that only interested city Indians. The tribal team got the hats with the picture and wore them proudly.

We ought not to forget that Columbus was a skilled navigator and sailor and a very brave man. His courage and skill helped open up the New World to our ancestors, something for which we all should be grateful.

So, to all those who want to do away with Columbus Day and celebrate Indigenous People’s Day or Native American Day and to all those who love the lame-ass controversies around sports teams names and to all those who take to the fainting couch if they find that Columbus Day offends someone, none of this helps so unless you’re willing to deal with something real, get lost.

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