Tomorrow is Indigenous Peoples’ Day in the USA.
Unfortunately, the national holiday is still named Columbus Day in most of the country but, in recent years, more and more cities & states have been waking up to the absurdity of celebrating a mass killer & father of the slave trade.
I’m not American so why should I care? Well, I’m European. As was Columbus and every other coloniser who forced their way onto American soil. So there is a responsibility there. Great-great uncles of mine moved from Wales to Australia, Zimbabwe, and the US at the beginning of the 20th century. And who’s to say more didn’t emigrate and help to colonise countries hundreds of years before that?
There’s a responsibility to make sure history isn’t whitewashed so that we don’t repeat the mistakes of the past.
I have no idea why Columbus is celebrated in the USA. The man never stepped foot on the North American continent.
And then there’s the greatest myth at all: That he ‘discovered’ America.
Fortunately a lot of people these days seem to be waking up to this lie. Unfortunately, disregarding Columbus doesn’t automatically bring about respect for the people who were already there.
Indigenous Peoples’ Day can be a great day to celebrate and honour those who have historically been mistreated and had their land snatched away.
The first way to do that is to discard everything you were taught in school and start learning some real history. So here are five books I recommend to help you do that:
1) An Indigenous Peoples’ History of the United States by Roxanne Dunbar-Ortiz
It’s hard to condense history into one book but this is a start. This is the history book that every child in the USA should be learning from. History from the perspective of indigenous people. Fifteen million Native people once inhabited the land. That number is now down to three million. This book challenges the ‘founding’ myth that has come to be regarded as gospel and looks at how colonisation and government policies were designed to seize indigenous territories and eliminate the Native people.
2) Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee by Dee Brown
This is quite a well-known book. It’s been around for more than 40 years, has sold more than four million copies, has been translated into seventeen languages, and has been adapted into a TV movie. Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee documents the destruction, massacres, battles, and broken treaties, of the American Indian during the second half of the nineteenth century through the direct words of warriors of the Dakota, Ute, Sioux, and Cheyenne tribes.
3) American Holocaust by David E. Stannard
This is not just the tale of who conquered America but how they did it. This book details the extreme violence, genocide, and barbarous atrocities that resulted in the annihilation of 95% of the indigenous population. As many as one hundred million native peoples across North America and South America were wiped out. This is one that you won’t be finding in school libraries any time soon but still a very important read that helps us to avoid glossing over the truth.
4) Custer Died For Your Sins by Vine Deloria Jr.
Deloria lit the fire of Indian pride, brown power, and AIM. His book tells history and modern day life from the side of Native people using wit and dark humour.
A reviewer on Goodreads also described this book perfectly:
Vine Deloria is a Native American author who explains why American Indians are not quietly vanishing the way conquered people are supposed to. The absolutely horrible things that are still happening to Native Nations in the United States are repetitions and replays of what has been going on for hundreds of years, and if one is gifted with a dark and surrealistic sense of humor, it’s incredibly funny, too, in the way that it’s funny when you watch somebody crack his nuts on the board when he flubs a dive off the high board. You have to laugh… but ow.
5) Lies My Teacher Told Me by James W. Loewen
While you’re discarding the Columbus lie from your mind, why not learn what other things your school forgot to mention? Like Helen Keller’s support of communism? Or Woodrow Wilson’s support of the KKK? Or Lincoln’s real reasons for abolishing slavery?
This book digs into the Columbus lie, the old myths of the pilgrims and the ‘first Thanksgiving,’ as well as more figures & tales from history that has been polished and omitted from US history textbooks to help white kids feel good about themselves. Read it.