On Replacing Columbus Day With Dominated Peoples Day

Steven Newcomb

A noticeable trend has emerged in recent years as more and more cities in the United States drop “Columbus Day” in favor of “Indigenous Peoples Day.” This name change is considered to be a great improvement by those who know that Columbus Day stands for a bloody expansion of empire and colonization. He stands for the decimation our ancestors, and the devastation of our nations and peoples. He stands for a legacy of genocide.

One way of characterizing the Columbian legacy is this: When Columbus named that first island “San Salvador” (Holy Savior), he began the process of using the human imagination to impose the dominating metaphors of Western Christendom on our nations, our ancestors, and our lands. Christendom’s imposed system of metaphors and resulting bloodshed can also be understood as a system of domination and dehumanization carried forward by the people of Christendom to advance the Empire Domination Model of Christianity. Now we are being told that one way to turn our backs on that dark and bloody legacy is by getting rid of the holiday named after Columbus, the “patron saint,” so to speak, of that history of death and colonization.

Before we move further in the direction of “Indigenous Peoples Day,” however, perhaps it would be wise to remember Dakota poet and philosopher John Trudell’s warning about what happens when, “They change the name and treat us the same.” The existing foundation of the system continues unabated because the name change is only a surface level revision.

Question: Why are we are encouraging U.S. cities to drop “Columbus Day” and adopt “Indigenous Peoples Day”? Possible answer: Because we are against the system of domination that Columbus and all of Christendom invasively imposed on our nations and peoples; the resulting system of domination is chronic and ongoing to this day.

Well, if that is the case, one might ask, then why are we using the metaphor “Indigenous” to name ourselves? That metaphor, lifted from the terminology of the United Nations (UN), merely reinforces, rather than challenges, the metaphorical system of domination being imposed on our nations and peoples? Based on the way the word “indigenous” is defined in the UN, we are merely dropping “Columbus Day” in favor of the well hidden idea of “Dominated Peoples Day.” Allow me to explain.

In the context of the United Nations and the international arena, Indigenous peoples are, according to one working definition, conceived of as having been at one time distinct peoples (nations). Then, “persons of a different culture or ethnic origins arrived there [here] from other parts of the world, overcame them, and, by conquest, settlement or other means reduced them to a non-dominant or colonial situation” (emphasis added). (Khan and Talal, Indigenous Peoples: A Global Quest for Justice (1987).

Think of the heart-wrenching process that our ancestors and our nations were forcibly subjected to in going from a pre-Indigenous (pre-dominated) existence to a dominated existence. At first, our ancestors and our nations were living free and independent of foreign domination. Then, suddenly, our ancestors and our nations were invaded and gradually “overcome,” and “reduced” down by dominating powers “to a non-dominant or colonial situation.” The colonizers then began to consider our nations and our ancestors to be dominated nations and peoples, that is, deemed as existing “under the feet” of the colonizers, to use a metaphorical expression. “They walked all over us.”

Eventually, the colonizers began to use “colonial peoples” and “indigenous peoples” as synonymous phrases. Because neither of those phrases brought domination into focus, the word “dominated” was not detected and used by us as a way to challenge the dominating society’s system and metaphors of domination.

To be named “indigenous” is to be named in terms of the opposite of the original free existence of our nations and our ancestors. To be named “indigenous” in the context of the UN is to be named in terms of what is considered to have come about after our right to a free and independent existence was supposedly ended by the “civilizing” process, i.e., being violently and semantically subjected to the metaphors of Christendom. The mission of Christendom was to use processes of domination to work toward the complete dissolution (elimination) of our free nations.

The use of the term “non-dominant” by Khan and Talal’s calls attention to an assumption that has guided “states.” According to that assumption, the Christendom’s metaphorical system of domination is now dominant, and our nations and peoples are metaphorically deemed to exist under or beneath that well-designed system of metaphors. The definition of “non-dominant” is applied to our nations and peoples because we are deemed to have been subjected in an ongoing manner to a well- designed system of domination.

If we are serious about our own liberation, by decolonizing (undominating) our minds, then we need to take a deeper look at the colonizers’ language system, and its system of metaphors. For it is by means of his language system that the colonizer spins his linguistic and metaphorical webs of empire and domination. We cannot take colonizing terminology at face value. The most comfortable and most immediate approach is not the best approach for our liberation.

We have to engage in the mentally difficult task of interpreting the words, texts, and metaphors of the colonizer so as to reveal deeper truths. Here’s a concluding point I wish to make, “Original Nations and Peoples Day” is preferable to “Indigenous Peoples Day.” However, if you feel completely committed to “Indigenous Peoples Day, then let’s use “Dominated Peoples Day” so that the image of the domination system from which we need to liberate ourselves is clear and unambiguous.

If we use words that merely serve to reinforce the existing framework of domination, then what have we truly achieved? We need to begin using language in a manner that identifies that framework and brings it to the level of conscious awareness, while at the same time challenging its false claim to legitimacy. We could use “Dominated Peoples Day” as an ironic way to point out to the world that the domination system is still being used against us, while making the argument there is no such thing as a right of domination. In other words, our nations still have the inherent right to exist free and independent of domination and dehumanization.

Steven Newcomb (Shawnee, Lenape) is co-founder and co-director of the Indigenous Law Institute, and author of Pagans in the Promised Land: Decoding the Doctrine of Christian Discovery (Fulcrum, 2008). He is a producer of the documentary movie, The Doctrine of Discovery: Unmasking the Domination Code, directed and produced by Sheldon Wolfchild (Dakota), with narration by Buffy Sainte-Marie (Cree).

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talyn's picture
In Fourteen Ninety-two Columbus sailed the ocean blue Now, nobody thought the world was flat most everyone knew better than that Columbus thought the world was small he'd sail from Portugal to China in no time at all But something went wrong with Columbus's plan he entirely missed the Sea of Japan The sun must have gone to his head he went to the Bahamas instead The people he met said 'hi we're the Taino' and where did you come from we'd like to know? Now, Columbus was not a very nice guy He was a cheat and a thief and a poke in the eye! And so he said, Oh no you're not, I've sailed to the Indies, so its Indians I've got! I see you're very nice folks and you don't have an army so bring all your gold and give it to me I'll sell you for slaves and kill your babies I'll get rich and I'll get fat and I don't care if you hate me' If we are looking for more honest language...
WinterWindTeacher's picture
I thought Indigenous Peoples Day was a positive concept that took any hoopla away from a murderers festive feast day and put any celebration of life where it honestly belonged, with the People of life and light, the natural inhabitants of the continent of America. It may not convey the death and destruction that took place, an epic slaughter and massive destruction, and truly there is missing any meaningful acknowledgement of an event that was a mass slaughter never known or seen throughout human history. A day of memorial is fitting for the millions who perished and continue to at the hands of monstrous slaughterers in the name of god and for the love of gold. The sacred soil and water have been filled with the blood of the People of whose natural home had and continues to be violated, raped, pillaged, and murdered. It dispels any confusion about discovery, other than discover the truth by removing the false myth. It would be sensitive and sensible if the day were acknowledged officially throughout the America's in the modern nation state's that dominate and oppress Native People and have constructed false nations atop the natural existing native nations or what should be hallowed ground for the nation underfoot that is extinct, where nothing should be allowed to be built. Throughout the continent, a solemn day of respect and remembrance of a holocaust that began and has continued to fill up these centuries as people, animals, land and water have been extinguished. Many of the Native Peoples of the continent are still losing their lives today for the endless war and oppression and theft of the land and water that has put whole nations of Native People and complete ecosystems, their homes, to death. It is correct to remember the brave who fought valiantly to protect their people, the sacredness of their home and life and the innocent; the unborn in the womb, infants, small children, young people, mothers, grandmothers, grandfathers, uncle's, aunts, cousins, lovers, fathers, dreamers, visionary's. It is necessary to remember their lives - they cried out, they did not want to die in this way. It is right to hear their cries and to answer them: we are here, we hear you, we take back this day and reclaim it for you, for the love of your life, for the love of all that is sacred and divine, we honor you. The way is being prepared, soon you will come home, we cleanse ourselves so you will come home and we will all be together in happiness and peace as we knew before that cruelty and death came on that day. The mother earth, and father sky, our ancestors and relations of water, air, forest, jungle, mountain and desert and all plants, rocks, and animals are preparing for the cleansing that shall be complete to remove all manner and apparitions of the unclean, these filthy blood soaked alters that have offended the spirits and other manner of hubris and debris. The time is approaching and we prepare for your blessed return. The day certainly should be given to speaking to the one and the many who are or have been calling and weeping - we should be quiet to hear any who are crying out and comfort them by assuring them we do hear them and we are cleansing ourselves so that the way is made for their return home. Their return is sacred, holy and divine and the earth and her children must be clean, there can be no reality of Alberta tar sands, and other such crimes to the earth. For those who prefer a day of celebrating the Indigenous cultures of the America's, they do contribute positive energy to the vibrations across the drum which is a medicine for the trauma and is helpful to all the life that has been suffering. Thank you for writing this article because I questioned myself and I did not know what to do. Now I feel very clear; to cleanse and be quiet on this day and listen for any who may be crying, and to let any ancestor spirit who may be near and listening - that I am here and I know, and I am aware to cleanse myself so that their journey may be hastened. I understand they wish to return, to come home. Our native ancestors need not weep any longer, I hear their voices, and I am preparing myself and the space I dwell in to be clean for the sacredness of their return. I listen for the water, air, rocks, trees and animals who may also call out and our mother the earth, I am aware, I do hear and I prepare. I know they are coming, it is a great joyous day for the return of the people into these sacred lands, the continent of America, these holy lands given by the father so long ago. I bless the day and keep it clean for their return, I know the people are coming home. I am preparing and cleansing. I will not use the day for anger, revenge or hatred of any kind, it will only delay and create obstacles. There is no political solution as there has been a continuous dishonesty which disallows for a political dialogue. I prepare in the day for the return, it is what is vital, necessary and essential. Their alter is dirty, cleansing money with the blood of life and lies. I know the spirits detest such ugliness. I honor the truth which can not go near those sacrifices cruel. I am aware that they use technology to seduce and coerce me into an alien world of their making or otherwise endure the starvation of alien nation. I prefer starvation, it is their common method perpetrated on oppressed people throughout their history making. I know the mother and father prepared for my well being no matter what they robbed from me. My poverty is their well wishing taking everything. I have no idea of joining their alien nation, but I approve of them going to it and leaving the earth to divine creation where no alien ever dwelt and never will. Mitakuye Oyasin
alexjacobs's picture
C'mon Steve. You win one for the team...why blow out the torch before it's even lit. Indigenous has taken root but when we say it, we are not speaking that kind of "English" or "Latin", we are speaking something we ALL ("Akwekon") more or less agree on...and how many times can we say that? Maybe OPD is better jargon than IPD...whatever. You single-handedly (with your Red Tomahawk hand & the help of your research spirits) have made the Doctrine of Christian Discovery a valid, no-going-back, historical, political "thing". Some peoples may have a hard time grasping any more, right now. I don't even have a problem with "Indian" because it represents my generation and I am as close to a Dead Indian as you will find (we all are) and Dead Indians sometimes have more power than Living Indians, it seems. Some English back then asked some Algonquins/Anishnabes why do you let us call you "Indians" when you know that's not true, those NDNs said, "As long as you don't confuse us for you, don't ever say that We Are You"...400 years later that's where we're at (again) w/ INDIGENOUS...we were here first, is what it means to most people...so you are hereby appointed chairman of that committee to find that name...good luck. Actually I think like today's Farmers (not the Framers) - my food is real and organic so why dont "you" call yourself something else, modified or hybrid...We Are Americans...You Are All Immigrants...
tmsyr11's picture
So much for the BANDWAGONEERS (during October) to "Indigenous People's Day"…..i.e. down with the European culture, indigenous rights -way of life, etc….Then 2-3 weeks later; what is every-one celebrating and participating in? A significant observance day sponsored by Christian institutions OR observance in most of "new world" as De lost Muertos (Day of the Dead). When are these Indigenous participants going to get it right, especially during the month of October?
alexjacobs's picture
Dia de Muertos is an indigenous (or Original Peoples) ceremony/celebration/ritual... the Catholics had to adopt it but tribal (original) peoples have always had their Day of the Dead, or, Feast for the Dead, Dead Feast. Ours is part of the Iroquois Midwinter Cycle, here in NM people get Halloween, Dia de Muertos, and All Soul's Day. And there's Samhain the Gaelic/Celtic/Wiccan festival. But where did the Catholics get All Soul's Day? I'm guessing from the old pagan religions & native/indian/tribal celebrations, as usual. Disney tried to trademark "Dia de los Muertos" and got a quick setback as Latinos Rebels, Indigena & on-line critics blasted back. So Christianity is just a late-comer to the Feast for the Dead. Just a change of seasons, end of harvest, start of winter. And when we get back to Columbus, we get back to alot of the dead... indians, indios, indigena... all up in this soil. So you pray, light a candle. 100 million candles.
piqua's picture
Greetings Alex, As a poet and wordsmith, you of all people ought to get the point I'm making. What specific words are used to create a working definition for the term 'indigenous' in the context of international law (the Christian law of nations) and the United Nations? As I've explained in detail, those specific words are terms of domination. There is no reason to shut down our critical thinking because so many of our people have become comfortable with the term indigenious. Nor is there a reason to become impatient with me because I happen to have noticed this and am now pointing it out.
OhPinion's picture
I agree that Original Nations and Peoples Day is a good name and that Indigenous Peoples Day is not. The meaning of words is crucial for communication, knowledge, and understanding. The great importance of how and when we use words, based on their meaning, should not be underestimated. Words should speak truth.