Monday, October 12, 2015

Columbus Day And/Or Native American Day

Today many people took time off from work to celebrate Columbus Day and/or Native American Day, and most of us give very little thought to celebrating Columbus' "discovery" of America. I can remember learning in first grade that Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 with three ships, the Nina, the Pinta, and the Santa Maria. But outside of some family stories around our own Shawnee tribal traditions, I learned very little about native people in school other than some very simple stories about  "The First Thanksgiving" and possibly a story about Pocahontas.

It wasn't until I was in college that I began learning more about the systemic destruction of native peoples, lands, and culture that Columbus ushered in when he landed in the New World. I remember reading some of the writings of Bartolomé De Las Casas in an English class and learning about his first-hand witness of atrocities committed against the Taino and others in the New World in the late 1400s and early 1500s. Bartolomé De Las Casas was a Dominican friar, and while he was once a participant in this exploitation and destruction, he began to be strong opponent to the injustices of which he participated and witnessed. Historians estimate that there were between 1-8 million Taino on Hispaniola in 1492, and that this number was reduced to about 60,000 in less than 30 years. In 30 years, hundreds of thousands were directly murdered, enslaved, or succumbed to diseases brought by their new neighbors.

The irony of this kind of exploitation is that Columbus wrote this of these new neighbors, "there is not in the world a better nation. They love their neighbors as themselves, and their discourse is ever sweet and gentle and accompanied with a smile; and though it is true that they are naked, yet their manners are decorous and praiseworthy." How in the world could these words be shared at the onset of one of the greatest combined genocide, land grab, and enslavement of a group of peoples that the world has seen?

Greed is the simple answer. An unquenchable desire for more is what led to this horrid beginning for the New World and the bringing together of cultures. 2% of the population of the US is now comprised of various Native people, and probably the reason why Columbus Day has not been replaced with a day for honoring Native people is because 98% of the US population is an immigrant population. Now that is a strange thing to consider, especially given the debates happening in our country regarding immigration and a potential influx of refugees from other countries seeking some safe haven, and maybe it is greed that keeps the door closed for a new wave of immigrants now.

It is all too easy to look back from the vantage of the present and see the sins of commission and omission of past generations, but what can we do to help prevent future generations from indicting us on similar charges long after we have breathed our last on this earth?

I wish there were simple answers, but when I think about it, there are so many different steps we can take, it is hard to know where to start. But, I believe there needs to be a starting point. If greed was the sin that led to thousands of tribes being wiped out, what can you and I do to curtail our own greed?

I think the key is to live a more simple life and to strive to do more with less. What does it look like? I think there are a number of simple activities that we can begin to build into our daily and weekly rhythm that can help us to let go of greed.

  • Give things away (time, money, resources). Most of us have way more than we need--why not share?
  • Walk or ride a bike when we can (traveling less than 1-2 miles) instead of driving a car. Not only is it good for the planet, but it is a reminder that for most of the world's history, people did not travel by using fossil fuels--they used their legs, or rode horses.
  • Use less energy. Turn off lights when you are not using them. Power down appliances. We've come to accept that it is normal to constantly use energy. It's not all.
  • Turn off the TV. Read a book. Talk to a friend or family member. Make a new friend.
When was the last time you did one or more of these things? I feel like activities like these help to cultivate simplicity and generosity in our life. When we cultivate simplicity and generosity, we are less likely to be consumed by greed. Saul of Tarsus once wrote that, "The love of money is the root of all kinds of evil," but I would say that the love of things could lead us away from loving people

So as you celebrate or observe this holiday, I think the best way you could celebrate it is to cultivate some habits that reduce greed. And, rather than celebrating Columbus' discovery today or brooding on the injustices of the last five hundred years, set your mind toward simplicity, and cultivate a heart of generosity. There is always a place in this world for more of both. 

No comments: