Demand Indigenous Peoples Day

From the November-December 2016 issue of News & Letters

indigenous-peoples-day-posterTucson, Ariz.–Although it is obvious that Christopher Columbus was not the first person to set foot on a Caribbean island, popular lore credited him for “discovering” two entire continents.

STREET HONORING FASCIST

As a descendent of Italian and Irish immigrants to Chicago, I understand the desire for an ethnic hero who would demonstrate the worthiness of Italian Americans to gain acceptance from the white power structure of the early 20th century. This same structure may have exploited the situation to win support for fascistic political ideologies: one literal case is that of Italo Balbo, Italy’s Air Force Marshal during World War II, who still has a Chicago street named after him.

In the past decade, Indigenous communities throughout the U.S. and beyond have been organizing against this false dogma of discovery, which effectively erases them from history. This year in Tucson, Ariz., on the day commonly known as Columbus Day, the Indigenous Alliance Without Borders sponsored a block party to commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day.

People at the block party held to commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day.  Photo: Buddy Bell

People at the block party held to commemorate Indigenous Peoples Day. Photo: Buddy Bell

This block party included spoken word and musical performances, a bounce house for the kids and a push to get everyone there to sign a petition to establish Indigenous Peoples Day statewide. Already several municipalities have officially established the day to commemorate Indigenous people.

BURYING COLUMBUS DAY

Cities and towns that used to officially sanction Columbus Day have dropped the designation. In Arizona, the cities of Phoenix, Tucson, South Tucson and Guadalupe and the county of Pima have designated the second Monday in October exclusively as Indigenous Peoples Day. The holiday is recognized statewide in Vermont and as Native American Day in South Dakota.

It isn’t as though there aren’t Italians or Italian Americans who exemplify livelihoods of expanding human freedom, not genocide. There’s Danilo Dolci, the Sicilian social activist who organized people to perform governmental functions themselves, in opposition to the official government plagued by Mafia corruption. To me, the philosophy that Dolci’s life invokes is highly preferable to the colonial one that is implied if we venerate Columbus.

Hopefully, the deification of Columbus will continue to wane because of determined efforts by Indigenous activists and allies.

—Buddy Bell

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *