Celebration or Conversation?


October 14, 2013

Columbus Day.  For some these words mean a day off.  For many though, Columbus Day is a day many folk seem to be racing away before anyone associates them with their heritage.

I imagine by the time most folk read this they will have come across Facebook posts, articles, twitters, and suggestions that Columbus Day should be given up in favor of something like Indigenous Peoples Day.  I think this is something of a miss.

It isn’t that Columbus should be honored.  Nor is it that Indigenous folk should not be honored (Native American Day-September 27 and Native American Month-November).  Instead, I find a simple change of name in favor of another is, well, simple.

We have become a people comfortable with the simple.  Simple does not require more of us.  We get to go about our everyday life without asking questions that might bog us down in moments of contemplation or fits of reflection.  Such is what it means to change Columbus Day into what we think the opposite.

Columbus Day can certainly fade away along with the Great Commission and the literal interpretation of Mathew 28: 18-20a,

And Jesus came and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me.  Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, and teaching them to obey everything that I have commanded you.”

The need to walk away from such celebrative days and conversion beliefs is readily evident in histories such as that of the United States and American indigenous peoples.  Clearly, the historical and ongoing deaths (physical, spiritual, cultural) of North American Indians is so massive, it is wrong (and can the term sinful be too strong?) for the North American community of the United States to take a day off, celebrate, and not talk about it.  But that isn’t the case, is it?  We really don’t talk about this do we?  Instead, society and the Christian church has found it more convenient, far less challenging, and much more simple to take actions like offering an apology now and then for historical misdeeds against Indian folk (one every decade or so since the seventies seems about right).  Changing Columbus Day into Indigenous Peoples Day has similar undertones.

Meaningful change calls for a collective conversation where folk not only grabble with historical atrocities, but also recognize the parents, the heritage, and the landscapes of every person has much more good than bad.  Yet there is fear that jumping into an honest conversation of our collective past will hurt—rightfully so, for it will.  For certainly in the midst of such conversation we are sure to find, both non-Indian and Indian, a lot of stuff we’d rather leave in the past.  Such conversation, with all its complexities, will certainly make some red-in-the-face and cause others to stutter.  However, in the midst of such fear and risk taking, arises richness, community, and friendship, and that seems well worth it.

So, no, I don’t favor dropping Columbus Day in favor of Indigenous Peoples Day.  But I do support dropping it in favor of a day where the community collectively honors the need to stop for a moment, sit down with their neighbor, Indian or non-Indian alike, and converse.  I support a day honoring the people of this landscape and their heritage—Narragansett or Puritan or insert your own, I support raising the ire of all today so tomorrow indignation may fade.  I support delving into the complicated so one day our children may simply accept one another as sister and brother.

© David B. Bell 2013

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