As part of my recent work with The Pachamama Alliance, I volunteered to write an editorial reconsidering ColumbusDay for some local papers in Tacoma. It was a fun assignment and I enjoyed it, but didn’t think much more about it until this evening when I discovered my Op-Ed in The Tacoma Weekly.
Here is the complete text – co-written with the kind folks at Pachamama. And I am happy to say – even before the publication of this piece, the city of Seattle designated Indigenous People’s Day on the day traditionally reserved for Columbus.
Reconsidering Columbus Day
With Columbus Day approaching, it’s interesting to consider what we learned, and more importantly, what we didn’t learn in school about the holiday and the man. We can all probably still recite the names of the Nina, the Pinta and the Santa Maria, but what were we taught about the brutal legacy of Columbus’ venture and those that followed?
According to the late historian Howard Zinn, Columbus’ discovery initiated a time of mass killings and commenced an era marked by colonization, the tragic dispossession of native homelands – including those of my Taino ancestors – and a seemingly unending drive toward the accumulation of money and power. While much of our modern lifestyle is possible due to resources acquired this way – and much knowledge has been gained through interaction with other cultures – it’s time to consider the harm that has also been done.
Beyond the historical destruction of our natural world and the devastation of indigenous peoples, we would benefit by looking at the insidious impact these trajectories continue to have on contemporary lives as well. While the excessive development that ensued in the New World celebrated the notion that “more is better,” that belief has kept us all moving at unhealthy speeds to achieve an idea of success characterized by money, power and little else. With both human health and the health of the planet in jeopardy, it may serve us to question what values we celebrate in our modern culture and consider whether there are different values we should cultivate instead at this point in human history – values such as sustainability, social justice and spiritual fulfillment. Something else we didn’t learn much about in school was the mutually enhancing relationship indigenous cultures have had with the Earth for millennia – and this may be a lesson we ignore at our peril.
Last month more than 300,000 people gathered in New York for the largest climate march in history. It was a plea to return to a more reverent relationship with the Earth. With Columbus Day approaching, it’s time for a reality check on what we’ve learned, a correction of what we haven’t and the cultivation of a relationship between ourselves and the Earth that’s more in harmony with indigenous wisdom.