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Bonus Episode: Celebrate Indigenous People's Day, Not Columbus

MATIKA: Five myths about Christopher Columbus. Columbus proved that the Flat Earth Theory was wrong.

ADRIENNE: That's a lie. People by that time like people from like 3000 bc knew that the world was round, and like definitely by the 1400s people were very aware that the world was round. Dude didn't prove anything.

MATIKA: Columbus was Italian.

ADRIENNE: No he wasn't. He was born in Genoa, which was an independent republic and is now part of Italy, but at the time was not, and he sailed for Spain and Spain was the one who gave him all the money for the trip and supported him. And there's even debate of if he was born in Genoa or was born in Portugal or Spain, so it's very unclear, and he wasn't like a proud Italian by any accounts because Italy didn't exist yet.

MATIKA: Columbus was a successful businessman and a model leader.

ADRIENNE: No he wasn't he wasn't even a good businessman. He had to like beg hella people to give him money for his trip and then once he got there he just like enslaved everyone and wanted all sorts of people to give him gold, and then by the time he got back, Spain was so embarrassed by his actions that they took away his gubernatorial title.

MATIKA: Let's just do one more. In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and discovered America.

ADRIENNE: He didn't even set foot in America. He was in the Caribbean. He never actually set foot on the continent that we call America, and didn't discover anything because there were a hell of people there already.

MATIKA: You cannot discover that which exists.

Yeah. I'm sorry. Or else I'd be walking into people's houses all the time that I thought were nice and discovering them and just living there. Itʻs mine now.

MATIKA: Let's just start by trying to unpack this complicated relationship with Christopher Columbus what is the deal with Columbus?

ADRIENNE: Columbus has become a symbol, and a symbol for a lot of different communities, primarily a symbol of pride for the Italian American community because they were the ones who advocated for Columbus Day to be a holiday, it came out of the Italian American community. So they see it as this source of pride as a time to be able to celebrate what it means to be Italian and Italian American, which I think is really important and celebrating heritage and pride is really important. But I think because of all the reasons we laid out in the intro, that Columbus is not the best representative of that Italian pride. And on top of it, the entire month of October is Italian American Heritage Month, so, they have a whole month to be able to celebrate and totally should celebrate. But, to me, if I were from a community, I would not want the representative of my community to be a genocidal guy who got lost and ended up in the Caribbean.

MATIKA: There's this very romantic story that we tell to grade schoolers. In 1492 Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue and this story is the first story that we really I think begin to hold on to as Americans, this American story of discovery. And we remember the story, we remember the song from grade school. And this. The story goes that this place didn't have people here and that it was actually discovered. That's a wild narrative. Wasn't there, I mean there was full grown cities here with millions of people, there were millions of people living on this continent. And it just seems so strange to me. Also, that Columbus never set foot here. So, the problem with this story is that it's a part of this American historical amnesia that we talk about. And it's also the story of Indigenous erasure. And what happens when we do this over and over and over again. Every year, is we continue to perpetuate racism.

ADRIENNE: I mean there's not much else to say. Besides that, yes, this is a form of Indigenous erasure This is a form of racism, to continue to celebrate Columbus, and it's so true that this narrative is the foundational narrative that we are taught in schools and I think that a lot of people today, a lot of teachers are probably complicating the myth, a little bit I would hope, but there is still this idea that we need to teach our students that Columbus was an explorer who came to this land, and that was somehow important when the reality is the important story is what was happening here. It is the fact that there were millions of Indigenous people here that there were cities like Teotihuacan that there were cities like Cahokia, that there was what the Europeans would consider quote unquote civilization was happening here so it wasn't like Columbus brought, anything that wasn't already happening here, anything that was good, or advanced or advanced, I mean, it's the story of Indigenous erasure, which I think is the important point to focus on, and just how pervasive this myth is even if people think that they have moved past it or question it or think, or dismiss it. The fact that we still have Columbus Day on the calendar as a national holiday says how deeply this is ingrained into the American narrative, the Doctrine of Discovery, the foundational idea that if you are coming to a land that is not being quote unquote used that you have a right to claim it. And that is the foundation of all of settler colonialism, in what is currently known as the United States.

MATIKA: And it's celebrated. I mean, you go all over the United States. And there's a there's a pioneer narrative, a discovery narrative, there's every single small town I drive into in America has some sort of placard that talks about when the city was established and when it was pioneered and this is so damaging and I don't want to go into all the ways that it's damaging for our communities because we've said that before, but we do have to acknowledge that this is a part of that.


MATIKA: Yeah. And why is it, do you think people don't want to let this go?

ADRIENNE: I really think that, as I was talking about that Columbus has become a symbol to a lot of people so for Italian Americans he's a symbol of pride. But for a lot of folks who are holding on to these myths of America, of a spirit of discovery of white supremacy I mean it's a lot of folks who are very afraid of this quote unquote overly PC culture that like if we change this what's next? And those are the folks who have a lot of fears about just creating egalitarian society and creating an integrated society,

MATIKA: here is just this whole thing that happened and is continuing to happen, which is that Native people are left out of the dialog they're left out of the curricula and we're consistently invisible in most spaces. And so I can all I can kind of maybe believe that people don't know better. I find it really hard to believe because you know I'm so deeply ingrained in, and contemporary Native America. I just can't imagine that you've managed to make it into your adult life without knowing the truth, but you know four days ago National Geographic published another video basically reiterating the same story. And so, you know, national syndications, textbooks, the content creators have a responsibility to tell the truth.

ADRIENNE: Yeah. And I often wonder if you went to the Columbus Day parade and started interviewing people on the street who were so proud of Columbus if they actually do know the real story. And to me, I'm like you where I find it hard to believe that at this point in their life they wouldn't, but it's very possible that they still have the ingrained myths of the great explorer Columbus who was Italian. And even though all of this is well documented. And like you said the, the diaries of Columbus and his crew and his relatives, all document the atrocities that he committed in great detail like none of this is a secret, and he was not ashamed of it at the time at all.

MATIKA: No, the thing is we're not making this up.

ADRIENNE: We're not just being salty like this is like actually history.

MATIKA: You know I did a project on this I made a short film about it and went to Columbus Circle in New York City. And we really, we asked over 100 different participants why do we celebrate Columbus Day and we also had some people with us and we asked, and they were you know, presenting as Native people wearing regalia. What is their ethnic background and the only person that thought that they weren't native was another Native person, every other single person guests some other background and people said things like, Okay, I get that that person is Native American but honestly, I really what I know about Native Americans I know this is gonna sound crass but, you know, we came here, we stole all their land we killed them all and the ones that lived now operate casinos. Another person said, I didn't know America had Indigenous. The responses that we received were so heartbreaking I remember the co host of the show sitting on the sidewalk at the end of that night just bawling her eyes out because she couldn't believe how ignorant people were about how-

ADRIENNE: And how open they are about their ignorance.

MATIKA: And not ashamed.

ADRIENNE: You actually gave a speech at Indigenous peoples day rally in Phoenix, and I think your words from that speech are really beautiful and I'm wondering if you could share some of them with us.

MATIKA: Yeah, I can share a few paragraphs from that. I started by saying, our words carry medicine. We use our words to pray for our children. We use our words to heal. We use our words to uplift and inspire our words though, can carry poison as well. On this particular day, a national holiday celebrating Christopher Columbus. Consider Columbus's words as he sought Spanish royal support for exploration in the Western Hemisphere and promised them as much gold as they need, and as many slaves as they ask Observing a holiday n honor of Christopher Columbus perpetuates and exploits ignorance and hurts Native Americans by reinforcing our absence from our national consciousness and celebrating our genocide and it hurts non Natives by reinforcing the arrival of a European as a more impressive story, and then digital story of survival, recovery, and progress. If Columbus had his way we'd all be dead. But indigenous ratio from national consciousness has a similar effect. We can see the Columbus legacy and that most people don't consider our existence. When we as a nation celebrate Columbus, we celebrate a false premise of Indian disappearance and insignificance this day of bizarrely selective remembrance and non critical insensitive thinking continues to silence, and to render us supposedly invisible and extinct. This is more than a bother. The Indigenous story is a more accurate story. And it's a story that we all deserve to hear. So let's begin to write and speak a healing narrative that honors Native people. Let's get to know each other, thank your Native brothers and sisters for welcoming you to their land. Today, Indigenous Peoples Day, is a good day for that.

MATIKA: It's funny that it was five years ago that we were talking about that. And we keep talking about it. In fact, I think another good point is that every year on Christopher Columbus Day The president releases a statement.

ADRIENNE: Every year on Columbus Day, the current president of the United States releases a proclamation because it is a national holiday. And those proclamations have looked drastically different in the last few years. And there's this great article from CNN by Holly Yan, that is called across the US, where cities ditch Columbus Day to honor those who really discovered America. It says, President Benjamin Harrison started celebrating Columbus Day in 1882 to mark the 400th anniversary of Columbus's landing in the Bahamas. In 1934, President Franklin D Roosevelt made Columbus Day a national holiday. Since 1971, presidents have traditionally written a proclamation for every second Monday of October, but the proclamations from the last two presidents couldn't be more different. Last year, President Donald Trump drew criticism when his first Columbus Day proclamation didn't even mention Native Americans, quote, the permanent arrival of Europeans to the Americas was a transformative event that undeniably and fundamentally changed the course of human history and set the stage for the development of our great nation. Trump wrote quote, therefore on Columbus Day we honor the skilled navigator and, sorry, I canʻt even read it with a straight face the skilled navigator and man of faith, who's courageous feet brought together continents and has inspired countless others to pursue their dreams and convictions, even in the face of extreme doubt and tremendous adversity.

MATIKA: Ugh gross.

ADRIENNE: Skilled navigator he got lost. A man of faith, dude was literally taking Indigenous women to his crew for them to sexually assault them, like, yeah.

MATIKA: Yeah pursue their dreams and convictions.

ADRIENNE: So contrast that with President Barack Obama's proclamation a year earlier which lauded Columbus's ambition, but also acknowledged the uglier side of Columbus's voyages, he said quote, as we mark this rich history we must also acknowledge the pain and suffering reflected in the stories of Native Americans who had long resided on this land prior to the arrival of European newcomers. Obama wrote citing violence deprivation and disease. As we reflect on the adventurers throughout history who charted new courses and sought new heights, let us remember the communities who suffered and let us pay tribute to our heritage and embrace the multiculturalism that defines the American experience. Personally I don't think Obama's statement is that much better. He just sort of acknowledges that suffering happened but as we reflect on the adventurers throughout history who charted new courses and sought new heights.

MATIKA: Remember the communities who suffered.

ADRIENNE: Yeah, that's fine.

MATIKA: We, we have to call genocide genocide, we have to call rapists rapists. And we cannot begin the path to reparations or restitution until we begin to name it properly.

ADRIENNE: So I've written like eight different blog posts about Columbus Day through the years of the blog. And on one of the last ones that I spent time writing, I instead of doing what we just did and breaking down all the myths of Columbus and talking about why he's bad, I decided to just share a bunch of stories of my Native friends who are doing cool stuff. And it was like really simple little things like oh I have a friend who is a badass lawyer in DC who's working on tribal law cases. I have a friend who's getting two PhDs one in the US and one in New Zealand and is amazing and just like these short little snippets of the diversity of amazing Native people that I have in my life, and I ended that blog post with this quote, which I think is what this is all about is that when we reframe the conversation from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day, that is a really powerful act and that centers, our stories, and our experiences, is, and is something that we really need to be moving towards because of these hundreds and hundreds of years of intense Indigenous erasure. So at the end of that post I put. So why do I share all these stories, because this is the Indian country I know these are the survivors, the anomalies, the surprises on Earth. That's a quote from Louise Eric. This is the progress that we represent the side effect of the narrative of Columbus Day is an erasure of our existence back then, and an erasure of our contemporary existence. Now, the Americans existed before 1492, and despite the best efforts of colonization, we continue to exist, we continue to resist and we continue to thrive. These snapshots offer just a fraction of my Native friends and colleagues and an even smaller sliver of all of the amazing people that make up Native America. We are still here, we're not all sitting around in teepees wearing feathered headdresses or speaking in broken Tonto speak. We're able to combine Western education and traditional education as a means to move our communities forward. When Columbus landed on the shores of the Bahamas over 500 years ago, he started a legacy of genocide that nearly wiped out the Indigenous peoples of the Americas. We weren't supposed to survive, but here we are. These young Native leaders are bringing Indigenous perspectives, innovations and ways of knowing to science technology, business law, education arts and more. And this is something to celebrate. So today, instead of celebrating a murdering Explorer, quote unquote, I choose to celebrate indigenous peoples.

MATIKA: So today, or this week Indigenous Peoples Day. We encourage all of our young activists and our friends and our colleagues and all those that are fighting the good fight to stay in the fight, that it's worth it, that changing the narrative matters, we hear you, we see you, and we support you and you're not in this fight alone.

ADRIENNE: Now, there have been folks in our communities doing this work for decades and decades, and there will be folks doing this work until we don't need to do it anymore. And I think that for all the Native students who are the one Native student on our campus and are trying to fight to change Columbus Day to indigenous peoples day just know that there are many other campuses that have been through this there are other Native students who can help you through this process, talk to you about the strategies they employed and write letters on your behalf. There's a community out there who can really work with you to make this happen. Same for cities that are trying to change the holiday on the city calendar. There are incredible models in Seattle and Minneapolis and other cities to look to how to do this, organizing work and how to get it done. And it's definitely possible.

MATIKA: So keep up the good fight, relatives.

ADRIENNE: And happy Indigenous Peoples Day.

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