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NIGA Talks About Columbus Day and the History of Indian Country

Ernest L. Stevens Jr. & Kevin Leecy
10/14/13

As the chairman and vice chairman of the National Indian Gaming Association, we offer this Columbus Day message on behalf of the 184 tribes that form our organization. Throughout this great and diverse Nation, there are certain holidays that carry more weight for certain segments of our nation than for others.  This is true for Indian people as well.  There are certain holidays that generate discussion amongst our Tribal citizens and their tribal governments because they speak to our place in the history of this great democracy. Columbus Day is certainly one of those holidays.

Indian people have their own governments, cultures, societies, and values that were in place long before we were supposedly “discovered.”  Our status as preexisting sovereign nations is acknowledged in the Constitution of the United States in three separate sections. The treaties our ancestors signed with the United States are still in force today and are as the Constitution states: “The supreme law of the land.” Tribes have great respect Kevin Leecyfor the preservation of our roles as separate sovereigns under the Constitution and at the same time Indian people are proud American citizens as shown through our high rates of participation in military service to this nation. Tribes are determined to uphold their rights assured through the treaties with the United States of America and to ensure that our children are provided with accurate historical accounts of our families, societies, governments, and status as separate nations, as well as our true place in world history.

Therefore, each Columbus Day we must take time to talk about the history of our Indian nations before and after “discovery.” The truth of Christopher Columbus, or Cristoforo Colombo as he was known in his time, has been well documented and it is one which we, as Indian people, should never forget.  We can no more forget the tremendous genocide that started with Christopher Columbus’ enslavement of Native people on his first visit to America, any more than we can afford to forget the massacres hundreds of years later by the U.S. Cavalry on our ancestors, elders, women and children. Wounded Knee, Sand Creek, and the Trail of Tears come to mind when I think about our history and it hurts to know that Colombus’s voyage was the beginning of centuries of subjugation of our people.  In that maiden voyage of the Ninã, Pintã, and Santa Maria, names American school children can recite from memory, Columbus landed on the Island of Hispanola (now the Dominican Republic and Haiti).  After remarking in his captain’s log of the hospitality he and his men received, Colombus wantonly killed and enslaved the Arawak people he found thus beginning his quest for gold and glory. Unfortunately, this was just the beginning for indigenous people in the Americas. Centuries of government sponsored oppression, thefts of land, outlawing of religions and languages, mass removals, and massacres were to follow. 

We cannot turn back the calendar anymore than we can change today the outcomes of those terrible events experienced by every tribe in this country.  We cannot change history, but we can change the manner in which the facts of history are celebrated and taught in our schools. There is another side of the story about Columbus and his voyage. The true Native American history, of thriving economies and sophisticated systems of government which existed long before they were “discovered,” is rarely taught in our schools, and is rarely mentioned or acknowledged.

In 2008, Congress passed and President Obama signed House Joint Resolution 62 designating the day after Thanksgiving as “National Native American Heritage Day.” The resolution developed as a bi-partisan effort under the Bush Administration and in 2009 President Obama signed the “Native American Apology Resolution” sponsored by former Senator and current Governor of Kansas Sam Brownback. 

These are steps the United States has taken to at least acknowledge the mistakes of the past and the atrocities committed in dealing with America’s first people.  It also signals a willingness to balance the misleading historical record taught through Columbus Day with a day of recognition for the Native American contributions to this great Country.  It is a small step, but Tribes intend to build off the impact of the Apology and Heritage Day laws and make further progress to shed light on the ‘real’ history of this country.

For Indian country, educating our children about the past is as much of a responsibility as anything our Tribal Governments can do for the general welfare of their people.  As Indian leaders, we urge all of the communities across the country to take a few minutes today and acknowledge the accurate history, both before and after contact, of the proud people you know today as Native Americans.

As we celebrate other holidays, Indian Country will be calling on your communities to honor and celebrate Native American Heritage Day on the Friday following Thanksgiving.  Tribal Governments and National Tribal Organizations such as NCAI and our organization, will be calling on Congress to take the final step and designate Native American Heritage Day a national holiday.  Even though we have a long way to go and many opinions to influence, Indian Country is united in obtaining a national holiday that acknowledges American history as well as the narrative history of the Native Americans supposedly “discovered” by Christopher Columbus.   

Respectfully,

Ernest L. Stevens Jr., chairman, National Indian Gaming Association; and Kevin Leecy, chairman, Bois Forte Band of Chippewa Indians, vice chairman, National Indian Gaming Association

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Anonymous's picture
The truth needs to be taught...not the lies
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Thanks so much for writing this clearly understood commentary. Sharron Newman, student at Northwest Indian College (on Friday after school another student and I protested with banners in front of the federal building downtown Bellingham, Washington state.)
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
it irrirates me that both Indian health services and National Indian Gaming Commission observe this holiday when most Indian governments do not! just my opinion....
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Pre Columbian Native people have nothing to brag about. They practiced slavery, rape, child sacrifice and took a toll on the environment. You don't respect Columbus Day but yet you celebrate Frontier Days. Look at the blood on your own hands. Oh and by the way..who is practicing genocide and ethnic cleansing by kicking out black people from the Cherokee Nation. If you have nothing to hide then where does the 27 billion a year go that you make in gambling? And what about people of mixed blood in California who have been kicked out because of greed? You people are rotting from the inside out from corruption not Columbus!! I am no longer a friend or activist of Native Americans.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Greetings, Thanks for a great article regarding some of the atrocities committed by the US government in the name of freedom! I myself am mostly white, although a member of the Saulte Ste. Marie Chippewa tribe. A lot of so called patriots will say that this is all ancient history, and the Indians have it made. As a devout Catholic, I say what about the event some 2000 years ago - when God - The Creator of all, came to dwell among us in the form of man, to show us His love for us. Anthony Joseph Bouchey
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Greetings, Thanks for a great article regarding some of the atrocities committed by the US government in the name of freedom! I myself am mostly white, although a member of the Saulte Ste. Marie Chippewa tribe. A lot of so called patriots will say that this is all ancient history, and the Indians have it made. As a devout Catholic, I say what about the event some 2000 years ago - when God - The Creator of all, came to dwell among us in the form of man, to show us His love for us. Anthony Joseph Bouchey
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
To the third "anonymous", based on your comments full of hatred and ignorance, it's hard to believe you ever were a "friend" or "activist" of Native American people. And you conveniently hide under the "anonymous" cloud. How brave of you!
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
In countries south of the US border, mexico, Latin American, South America, Caribbean Islands, this date is called "Dia de la Raza". In Mexico you will not find any national entities that honor Cortez, no statues, no cities, no street names. Maybe, Canada and the US should think of falling in line with "Dia de la raza'.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
As myself a white of similar decent to Columbus, I find it's important to teach our children who the man really was, and what he truly stood for. An earlier comment said, " Pre Columbian Native people have nothing to brag about..." but since we are talking about the celebration by the US every year of a self-proclaimed pedophile, rapist, murderer, and slave-trader, I cannot help but feel that you've missed the point. Columbus was a man on the same plane of actions as Hitler. I say that without hyperbole: these two men each led genocides many magnitudes larger than any other historical figure. To continue to celebrate his "discovery" without acknowledging his atrocities is to say that the people he killed, the culture he destroyed, is without value. To dismiss millions of lives as nothing more than a historical detail dishonors the humanity in each of us in a way that pains the heart, and promises nothing but destruction and hatred for all of us. Sincerely, MC
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Chairman Stevens and Chairman Leecy , your comments on this most important issue are much appreciated by Indian people across this land. Keep up the good work. Les Miller, New Chairman of the Scotts Valley Band of Pomo Indians
Anonymous