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Columbus Day Conundrum

Is it Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples' Day? Can both be the American Way?

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President Joe Biden has proclaimed every October 11th Indigenous Peoples’ Day. That it coincides with Columbus Day, a U.S. federal holiday honoring Christopher Columbus, has created a paradox in public policy to recognize both colonial occupiers and the very people they conquer. A memorandum to his executive departments and agencies begins:

A Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples' Day seems to run afoul of former U.S. president's policies on Indian Affairs. It suggests we acknowledge their culture; food, crafts, dance, canons of faith and leadership. Every October 11, federal agencies are now encouraged to recognize native Americans by assisting the nation’s awareness, tolerance and education of the Indigenous Peoples.

Trial of Tears

From the Age of Discovery onward, catchy sayings like “Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492” storied European explorer's arrival in the Americas after which Spain > Portugal > Britain > France > and the Netherlands all began to claim the continent as their own. The next 300 years oversaw colonial governor's displace, enslave, disestablish and exterminate many of the Indigenous Peoples. Moreover, their policies informed America's founding fathers.

In 1779, newly elected President George Washington gave orders to destroy the crops, villages and establishments of the Indigenous Peoples'. He writes to his generals:

The expedition you are appointed to command is to be directed against the hostile tribes of the Six Nations of Indians. The immediate object is the total destruction and devastation of their settlements; the capture of as many prisoners of every age and sex as possible; the ruination of their crops now in the ground; and the prevention of their ever planting more.

Fifty years on, President Andrew Jackson signed the Indian Removal Act; calling for the forced removal of 60,000 American Indians from their native villages to Indian Reservations. The Native Americans lobbied the U.S. Congress, created a petition with more than 15,000 signatures, and ultimately took their case to the U.S. Supreme Court who ruled they were a sovereign nation (Worcester v. Georgia 1832).

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Trail of Tears

However, Jackson ignored the Supreme Court’s decision and enforced the Indian Removal Act; forcibly removing them from their villages; incarcerating them in stockades; and forcing them to walk more than 1,000 miles to Indian Reservations. Over 4,000 died in transit, and many are buried in unmarked graves along the Trail of Tears. President Andrew Jackson writes.

By persuasion and force they have been made to retire — from river to river and from mountain to mountain — until some of the tribes have become extinct, and others have left but remnants to preserve for a while their once terrible names.

Population figures for Indigenous Peoples' prior to colonization in 1492 are difficult to establish. Scholars rely on archaeological data and written records from European settlers. However, most leading scholars gravitate toward a figure of 50-100 million or more. According to the U.S. Census, there are approximately 5.2 million full blooded Native Americans in the United States today, collectively representing 1.6% of the U.S. population.

The Sachem

During Britain’s colonization of the Americas, the term “paramount chief” was created by the British Empire. Because the term "chief" was routinely used by many civilized tribes, the term "paramount" was added to distinguish the Native American Indian’s Chief Executive. He was the highest-level political leader of the combined villages and regions throughout North America. The Sachem neither inherited nor claimed the title but was chosen by the combined tribes and villages to lead the nation.

Crazy Horse is remembered for expelling European Colonists, famously killing General Custer, and Red Cloud won the only war with the United States. However, Standing Bear was the first to take their battle to court. He was the first Native American Civil Rights leader; successfully arguing in a U.S. District Court that Native Americans were "persons within the meaning of the law." The harbinger of habeas corpus, Native Americans were judicially granted civil rights in American law from 1879.

American Leadership

While naturalized Native Americans citizens represent a scant 1.6% of the U.S. population, over 70% of their 340 million citizens actually have Native American Indian in their blood. According to genealogical resource, Ancestry, “Native American blood lines are present in 73% of all participants in our Ancestry DNA Studies: Tests for Ethnicity and Genealogy.” It can fairly be said that Native American bloodlines are firmly imprinted into the DNA, identity and culture of America.

The National Museum of the American Indian, a Smithsonian Institution, identifies six themes that came to characterize the Native American’s quest for liberty. They represent a canon of leadership ideals that guide and govern them even now including; recognition of the immanent value of all things, noninterference, and a collectivist decision-making approach.

If cancel culture is defined as being "shunned from society, " then its patently true the Indigenous Peoples' of the Americas were the first to meet that fate. "Once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition it has only one way to go," said President Harry Truman. "That is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear.

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Samoset, Plymouth Colony 1621

Beyond instructing public buildings to display the American flag, Biden's instrument designed to enable Tribal Nations to govern their own communities. A Proclamation on Indigenous Peoples' Day begins:

Since time immemorial, American Indians, Alaska Natives, and Native Hawaiians have built vibrant and diverse cultures — safeguarding land, language, spirit, knowledge, and tradition across the generations. On Indigenous Peoples’ Day, our Nation celebrates the invaluable contributions and resilience of Indigenous peoples, recognizes their inherent sovereignty, and commits to honoring the Federal Government’s trust and treaty obligations to Tribal Nations.

From the utopian Yankeedom to the conservative Greater Appalachia and Left Coast, all 11 rival regional cultures in the United States today can be traced to a single moment; first impression; statement of purpose: and life lesson:

On March 16, 1621 — Samoset, the first Paramount Chief to make contact with the Pilgrims — startled British colonists by simply walking into Plymouth Colony and greeting them in English with a warm "welcome."

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