This morning dawned warm and bright, with autumn’s colors seemingly more prevalent across the landscape than they were last evening. While today is forecast to be in the mid-seventies, there is talk of snow in the mountains by the weekend.
Today is Columbus Day, a good day to consider the history of European influence in the Americas. Like most things, this history is very complex. After all, I hold genes, ideas, and traditions from both Indigenous and European populations. That said, the larger context is one of ongoing genocide. It seems an everyday occurrence that some politician suggests we should be assimilated, steals more of our land, breaks a treaty out of greed and convenience, or ignores the rape or murder of thousands of Indigenous women. Too many of our people feel hopeless, resulting in unimaginably high suicide and substance abuse rates among our young people. Our young men are imprisoned at a rate far beyond our proportional share.
There is a strange dichotomy afoot: one hand the movement to change Columbus Day to Indigenous People’s Day is growing; on the other hand, the theft of Native lands and culture appears to be accelerating, as are calls for our assimilation. Noticeably absent is real movement towards honoring existing treaties and making reparation for centuries of broken promises and focused harm.
Rather than acknowledging the intergenerational effects of trauma, and of institutionalized racism and poverty, the dominant culture continues to place the blame for the suffering of Indigenous people on Indigenous people. Too many political leaders use the suffering of Native America as a rationale to do ever more harm. I find myself confused and dismayed that so few people challenge the politicians, like Donald Trump and countless others, who publicly espouse the destruction of Native people through assimilation and erasure. It is painful and frightening to listen to oneself, and one’s people, spoken of as worthy of extinction. I guess I am getting a hint of what my grandparents and still earlier generations faced.
While all of this is true, today we acknowledge something else. Today we proudly focus on our collective resilience and creativity, and the miracle of cultural continuity in the face of genocide. We are STILL HERE.
© 2015, essay and photograph, Michael Watson, M.A., Ph.D., LCMHC, All rights reserved