Columbus Day has in recent years had a shift in the public consciousness. No more is Christopher Columbus celebrated as a pioneer and explorer who “discovered” North America, rather he’s looked on poorly for the various atrocities he committed and precipitated against the native Caribbean islanders he encountered.
Thus, Columbus Day has, in many areas, been rebranded as “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” which is a celebration of the people who inhabited our continent first and have been almost completely displaced since the Columbian Exchange in 1492. This has been seen as a welcome change for many who feel that since the first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans, there has been a concentrated effort to destroy and erase their various cultures.
In a similar vein, there have been recent movements to rebrand Thanksgiving in a similar manner. Thanksgiving has generally been considered a day to remember the peaceful interaction of the settlers at Plymouth and Native Americans that purportedly resulted in a feast not unlike the many we have in America at the end of November.
Many see Thanksgiving as a continuation of the Columbus Day-style celebration of native erasure and unintentional genocide.
I feel however that Thanksgiving should be left alone and celebrated as is. Peaceful interaction, especially in such violent times as those the Pilgrims and Native Americans lived through should be celebrated. It would’ve been just as easy for either group to simply attack the other and perpetuate the cycles of violence that plagued our nation’s expansion and formation. Though relations would fluctuate and there would be massacres committed by both sides in the future, in that moment the two peoples came together and that should rightfully be celebrated.
In a similar vein, in America today, we should be thankful as well. Things may not be what this country considers normal, politically, culturally, economically, but when have they ever been?
Benjamin Franklin once said something to the effect that Americans were a new breed of people. One more violent, rugged, enterprising, and less civilized than their European ancestors. The idea that Americans have ever been “normal” by comparison to the rest of the Western world is folly. We are indeed different, and that difference is what has defined American excellence for the past 242 years.
One thought I’ll close on is the state of Native Americans currently in our country. At the Standing Rock Indian reservation, recently embattled in a dispute over a pipeline that violates their territory, the poverty rate sits at an astounding 43.2 percent. Nearly half the population of the reservation lives in poverty—and that number isn’t unique to Standing Rock. Across the country, Native American reservations are in a state of abject poverty that makes Detroit look like Dubai.
The code of the American civil religion demands no less than total economic reconstruction for these reservations. The idea that simply because these people decided to live apart from the federal government in order to keep alive millennia-old traditions should live in poverty because of that choice is frankly un-American.
We can do better in this country. We strive to. It’s what makes us American, and thus we should strive to treat our Native populations far better than we currently do.