On Monday, our country will observe Columbus Day, a celebration of that lost Italian on the shores of America. For most people it means a bank holiday and maybe a day off from school for the kiddos. As an Indian Law attorney, however, I see an entirely different side of the day. For my clients, this day marks a tragic turn in history.
Before the arrival of Columbus, Native Americans were self-sufficient, working hard to ensure they had food, clothing, and shelter. Their way of life was threatened or destroyed by the immigrants who flowed westward in the name of Manifest Destiny. In their fight to keep their lands, many Native Americans perished. Those who survived were cast away from their homes and onto tracts of inhospitable land.
Later, Indian children were forcibly removed from their families and placed in faraway boarding schools, with the intent of assimilating them into a Puritanical way of life. Native American adults were sent away on relocation programs – a modern attempt to help them get lost in the American melting pot.
Today, Indian reservations continue to be ravaged by poverty. Many live without basic human rights like clean drinking water.
If there is anything to be celebrated tomorrow, it is the resilience of the many tribes and Indian people in this country. The have come through the last 520 years with their ceremonial ways of life intact. They sing the songs their ancestors sang thousands of years ago. Children learn from their elders to ensure prayers will be carried for generations to come. And Native American expatriates are newly interested in returning to their tribes and seeking enrollment. Rather than celebrate an Italian who got lost five centuries ago, let’s reflect on the impact his followers had on Native American people and honor the survivors.