Header

What If Columbus Hadn't Come Here in 1492?

Donna Ennis
1/7/13

I was asked this question recently: “What would be different if Christopher Columbus hadn’t found us in 1492?”  What if we hadn’t suffered 520 years of genocide, ethnocide, linguicide, occupation and oppression? It is hard to imagine a life without historical, intergenerational and cultural trauma and the resulting breakdown of the Native American family structure.

In the book The Grieving Indian by Arthur H. he talks about loss on a multitude of levels that is experienced by Native people. He states that in his work with over 2000 Native people almost everyone was bothered by the same two problems – unfinished grieving and separation from their parents during childhood or early teenage years. Without the necessary healing work we are left with excessive alcohol and drug use and consequently suicide as we attempt to self-medicate away our hurt and permanently end our pain.

December 26, 2012 marked the 150th anniversary of the largest mass execution in U.S. history, when 38 Dakota warriors were hanged in Mankato, Minnesota. The documentary film, Dakota 38, commemorates the U.S.–Dakota War and the historical trauma that still lingers today. Dakota 38 co-director Sarah Weston, a member of the Santee Sioux Tribe, says one of the films messages is that Native people should take a simple but difficult step: Forgive the misdeeds of the past. “The past is really, really traumatic,” Weston said. “But were going to reach our hand out and say that we forgive. Because when you are not in a forgiveness place, you’re linked to that person or that trauma for the rest of your life, all day long. And so by forgiving we’re no longer linked to that.”

On a personal note, my great, great grandfather Charles Lord, Sr. was involved with the “Sioux Indian Outbreak.”  His obituary, dated March 7, 1910, reads almost like a biography.:

“Mr. Lord was nearly 82 years old, being born May 29, 1828 in St. Francis Ontario...he left Canada and came to this country. His first home was Kankakee, Illinois, and on account of fevers at this place he joined a party  going  to the lead mines of Galena, Illinois at that time making the acquaintance of Ulysses S. Grant.”  General Grant at this time was working a clerkship in his father’s leather factory as the Civil War had not began and it wasn’t until the following year that he was appointed a Colonel of the 21st Illinois Infantry. “From Galena he moved to Prairie du Chien, Wisconsin...from this place he went to St Paul and afterwards a short stay at Fort Ripley, then in command of Captain Todd, brother-in-law of Abraham Lincoln, he was at the Fort for two years. At this time the Sioux Indian outbreak occurred at Little Falls. A man by the name of Swartz had been shot by the Indians. Mr Lord with about 15 others volunteered to go with a detachment to bring the Indians to terms. They met the Indians at Sauk Rapids , where a battle fought. Mr. Lord’s shoulder being grazed by a bullet but no one was badly hurt and they continued to chase the Indians across the Mississippi river, catching the redskins at dinner on the river bank. The Indians swam the river and in the battle 14 were killed and six wounded.”

Charles Lord, Sr. eventually married Catherine Osaugie, daughter of Chief Joseph Osaugie who was Chief and Headman of the Fond Du Lac Band of Ojibwe.  I am the sixth generation descendant of Chief Joseph. Our small community has healing work of its own to do. In 1918 the Minnesota Steel Company desecrated the graves of our ancestors buried on Wisconsin Point by disinterring them and moving them to a Cemetery near by.  Today the ground under the Indian graves is eroding and the band would like to return the remains to Wisconsin Point which has also been returned to the Fond Du Lac Band.

To answer the question “What would be different if Christopher Columbus hadn’t found us in 1492?”  I don’t have a clear answer but I suspect there would have been other attempts to take what was ours and all of the same tactics would have been used; deceit, trickery, colonization, etc.  It is time that we move forward and do the healing work that is necessary for the survival of our culture. We can start with demanding government apology and the repatriation of the desecration of Indian remains. On December 19, 2009 the U.S. passed a law that included an apology to Native peoples. The apology reads in part as follows:

“The United States, acting through Congress … apologizes on behalf of the people of the United States for the many instances of violence, maltreatment and neglect inflicted on Native Peoples by citizens of the United States [and] expresses its regret….”

That apology was never presented publicly to the American people. Now, three years later, a Conversation for Reconciliation: A Public Reading of H.R. 3326 was presented on December 19, 2012 in front of the U.S. Capitol Building. Let the healing work begin.

Donna Ennis is currently the chair of the Minnesota Indian Child Welfare Advisory Council, as well as the eastern regional director and cultural director for North Homes Children and Family Services, a professional foster care agency.

 

You need to be logged in in order to post comments
Please use the log in option at the bottom of this page

11

POST A COMMENT

Comments

Two Bears Growling's picture
I sometimes wonder as well how things would have been different or would have been the same with just the times delayed a few decades. The Invaders have been on this Continent since at least the times of those Norsemen / Vikings from across the Big Waters. That time for our peoples was brutal as well. Our relatives in Mexico & Peru I think suffered complete destruction of their entire cultures. They had millions of their people butchered &enslaved by the Spanish, valuables stolen & shipped to Spain. They had their great buildings torn down because the Christians viewed them as idol worshippers. Then once the English came to our shores they brought with them diseases we had no immunity from. Many thousands of our peoples died because of the exposure to them either by friendly relations or by rape. Then the present land takers, the US government, stole even more of our lands, killed untold 10's of thousands of our peoples, outright murders presidentially-approved executions of whole camps with old folks, infants, women & children in them. Then they stole our children from us & tried to wipe out our ways by making them learn the washichu's ways, forbidding our children to speak our languages & beating them if they did. These so-called men & even some women of their churches abused our children as well. The outside world dares wonder why so many of us are STILL angry about the past sins against our peoples! It may be easy to forgive for the past, but it is very hard to do so when at this very day crimes are STILL being committed against our women folk, sometimes our young ones & elders as well. How do we forgive these things? This "apology" to our many peoples by the Congress, representing the US government, written in 2009 means nothing! These representatives didn't even give us the respect & decency of a nation & worl-wide, televised apology! We want the whole world to witness this apology! Brothers, sisters, near & far, how do you feel about this all? Idle No More folks, how about you take this cause up as well! We ALL want & NEED this apology to be seen world-wide. Too many times letters from the washichu's on paper have done nothing for us & have been tricks to hurt us even more, steal from us even more, etc. I know that Bible of the Christians says to turn the other cheek, but I only have 2 to turn & no more.The Great Spirit says we should not keep bad feelings inside because it does harm to our body, our mind & our spirit. Our Creator wants us to let these bad feels go, but you know, how does one do this when the SAME things are STILL going on? A person who apologizes shows their sincerity by no longer doing the things they did that hurt others as in the past. THAT'S what I want to see with these "apologies" we were given in 2009. I want to see that "change" in these governments when they write on those papers with their words. How about the rest of my brothers & sisters near & far? Words mean nothing without the actions that show proof of a change. A people cannot heal in mind & spirit until there is evidence of a heart-felt change of the former enemies of our ancestors. Our many peoples need that healing of mind, body & spirit so we can finally move on. I pray to our Creator to make these changes come to pass. I ask the Great Spirit to wipe that pain from our memories so our spirits can finally be made whole. I ask each of you to ask Man Above to protect our warriors near & far who are voicing our pain for all to know about. May our Creator watch over each of us as we have our daily struggles where ever we may each be. Hoa.
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
so i'm at fault and need to apologize... because some humans in the 1800's killed some other humans. great. i'm screwed i guess.
Anonymous
Two Bears Growling's picture
To Annon below my post. No, you do not need to apologize to we First Nations unless you are guilty of doing something to our people. Your governments, however, owe our many peoples apologies for the past. THEY are the guilty ones in these matters. We want those apologies televised for ALL to see across this world. That little apology by the US government in 2009 is not good enough. Their Congress were disrespectful to us. They did not even have the decency to televise that apology with ALL we First Nations representatives present to accept or reject that apology. STILL, we are disrespected, used & abused sometimes by the VERY law officials who are sworn to "protect & serve" the citizens of the USA. STILL, our peoples are horribly mistreated in many places to this very day! In some places store clerks refuse to wait on our peoples. In some places on our own reservations even, washichu's refuse to vote for us simply for the fact that we are Indian people. Some even tell it to our faces! Hate, racism & biggotry are STILL alive & well in 2013. So Annon, you personally do not own us an apology unless you have done something to us. That being said, your government's most certainly own ALL our many Indian Nation's a ton of apologies that we want televised for the whole world to see & be witness of. What we want most of all is for ALL the evil things to stop being done to our peoples. Our Creator made us all on Turtle Island in the beginning. We were ALL created as equal, but the evil in mankind's mind & spirit caused many to become less than equal through the evil they have committed upon others across the world we all live on. We ALL strive for peace, compassion, kindness, love, happiness & lives that contribute to the well-being of others in a good way. My friend, if you are one of those who are a decent human being who goes forth spreading words of kindness & compassion & deeds that show you are truly a good man then what more could anyone ask of you? You are someone with whom the Great Spirit is pleased with.
Two Bears Growling
Anonymous's picture
Actually anybody who is born in the usa is native american.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Talking about it does nothing
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
This is really off the point of this piece which is full of good observations, but "do you think they really would have found someone nicer than Columbus to send?" Apologies won't do it either. What we want is effective motion towards simpler, more sustainable lifeways and all of us standing up together against greed and extinction. In these things, Native cultures and people are our teachers.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Fantastic article Donna, I am very proud of you!! I have absolutely no doubt what so ever that our Fore Fathers lives were connected. My ancestors as well came from the Sioux Nation in the U.S.A. and came to Canada. We are still here today. I just know we could have many meaningful conversations. Thank you for your writings, simply wonderful.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
Fantastic article Donna, I am very proud of you!! I have absolutely no doubt what so ever that our Fore Fathers lives were connected. My ancestors as well came from the Sioux Nation in the U.S.A. and came to Canada. We are still here today. I just know we could have many meaningful conversations. Thank you for your writings, simply wonderful.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
"so i'm at fault and need to apologize... because some humans in the 1800's killed some other humans. great. i'm screwed i guess. " I believe it it written in the white bible that 'the sins of the fathers are visited on the sons." So, yeah, you are at fault and need to apologize, and yes, you're screwed.
Anonymous
Anonymous's picture
What wouldn't be?...Probably me! I am Cherokee and Irish. What if my Irish family never came over? I love my Irish family, I wish I knew my Cherokee family! This is the tragedy for my family. Being torn apart children from parents, and being denied my heritage. The shame associated with being Native, so census list is inaccurate, rolls are unrecognized, and we are the only ethnic group that must prove (against all odds) so we can be card carrying to gov standards to claim the heritage that runs in our bloods. There is much to be righted. For so much has been wronged! My father died, never knowing what his name really was, My name is not my own. It is one given by a "white man". I have The Pride in my heart at how we have survived, and the respect I have for my ancestors who came before me and truly fought with their lives, for what they believed in!
Anonymous

Pages