It is as predictable as any other annual US holiday or commemoration: National mainstream media devote sound bites to Columbus Day and the meaning of Christopher Columbus’ voyage to the “New World,” while Columbus Day sales hit the stores. Meanwhile, op-eds and letters to the editor register Indigenous people’s objections to Columbus as worthy of commemoration. In recent Octobers, it seems, asking Indigenous people what they think of Columbus Day has also become a sound bite.
In the last few years, however, increasingly perceptible is an Indigenous resolve to refuse to accept the American exceptionalist narrative that the United States is a nation that embraces multiculturalism. In fact, it is still common practice today to deny that Indigenous peoples were the first victims of the US’s genocidal policies, and that those surviving Natives, once militarily subjugated, were then subjected to ethnic cleansing, which is more commonly known as “assimilation.”
Once Indigenous reactions to nationalist US forms of remembrance — whether they be histories, national event reenactments, or monuments and statutes — are registered, apologists for the US, having acknowledged “two perspectives” or “two sides,” intimate that a level of understanding has been reached, and that we might move to some sort of reconciliation and healing. However, as the growing Indigenous liberation movement has emphasized, reconciliation and healing cannot take place until the US stops celebrating Indigenous genocide. As historian Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz makes clear in An Indigenous People’s History of the United States, since its founding, the US and its settler citizens have habitually committed crimes of inhumanity against Indigenous peoples in order to lay claim to their lands and territories, and have systematically laid waste to these lands as they extract natural resources with little regard for the treatment of Mother Earth.