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Yes, We’ll be at Work on Monday

October 4, 2010

It’s not that we’re overworked.  It’s not that we don’t have anything better to do. The staff of FCNL will be at work this coming Monday, Columbus Day, because of FCNL’s historic dedication to issues of Native American advocacy and equality.  We’re also not convinced that Christopher Columbus was much of a hero.

The yearning to acknowledge the hope and new beginnings that Columbus, for some, represents, is certainly valid.  If that’s a yearning of yours, perhaps consider checking out Easter, the Winter Solstice, Yom Kippur, or others.  I would hope that we can find more simple and more responsible ways of celebrating newness and adventure in ways that do not immediately imply the genocide of millions of Native North, Central, and South Americans, as well as the ongoing oppression and overlooking of Native voices raised in protest of this federal holiday.

Understood by some to be ‘the beginning of the civilization of the untamed world’, Columbus’s arrival in the Bahamas in October, 1492 marks the beginning of a massive decline in Native populations due predominantly to the spread of European diseases and war.  Some historians number the death toll at 80% by disease alone, and others claim that 100 million people were killed by the European invasion of the Americas.

The extent of the holocaust seems to be matched by the cruelty and barbarity with which Columbus treated Native people, as primarily recorded by Bartholemew De Las Casas, a Catholic priest who traveled with Columbus:

Las Casas witnessed Spaniards – driven by “insatiable greed” – “killing, terrorizing, afflicting, and torturing the native peoples” with “the strangest and most varied new methods of cruelty.” The systematic violence was aimed at preventing “Indians from daring to think of themselves as human beings.” The Spaniards “thought nothing of knifing Indians by tens and twenties and of cutting slices off them to test the sharpness of their blades,” wrote Las Casas. “My eyes have seen these acts so foreign to human nature, and now I tremble as I write.” – Norman Soloman

FCNL’s long-standing advocacy for Native Americans and our vision for a world of equality and peace helps us align with other groups and organizations – from South Dakota to the National Council of Churches and the American Indian Movement – in the non-observance of this holiday.  FCNL’s Native American program has celebrated many successes, and we were honored to receive an award from the National Congress of American Indians.

And what, you might ask, will we be doing on Monday?  Our Native American program has a lot of work to do in the next several weeks as we look forward to the 111th Congress’s last hurrah in November and December.  In particular, we will be working to advance the following pieces of legislation towards passage:

  • HEARTH Act. The HEARTH Act (H.R. 2523, S. 3235) would ease some of the restrictions on leasing of Indian land, making it easier for tribes to develop homes for their members without having to apply to the Secretary of the Interior for special permission for each project.
  • The Carcieri Fix. When a recent dispute between the state of Rhode Island and the Narragansett Tribe arrived in the U.S. Supreme Court, the Court make a surprising decision:  that tribes which were not under federal jurisdiction in 1934, when the Indian Recognition Act was passed, cannot now come under federal jurisdiction.  This conclusion throws much of Indian law out the window, and Congress should be anxious to repair the problem.  To that end, a House subcommittee addressed the issue in its appropriations bill, which may make it possible for the House and Senate to approve the necessary provisions this year.
  • Extension of Special Diabetes Program for Indians. Legislation to extend the authorization of the Special Diabetes Program for Indians has enormous support in both the House (H.R. 3668) and the Senate (S. 3058).  By investing in the prevention and early treatment of diabetes, which occurs in epidemic proportions among Native Americans, this legislation could save lives, pain, and treasure.

For more information on these bills and to find out more about our Native American program, you can read our most recent Native American legislative update, subscribe to receive the update yourself (1 issue per month), or visit our website.

For more information on resistance to Columbus Day:

Oh, and if you’re wondering, FCNL does take days off – like UN Day/William Penn’s Birthday!

One Comment leave one →
  1. Mary Allen permalink
    October 6, 2010 1:22 pm

    Reflecting on the consequences, intended and unintended, of the European invasion of the Americas for the Native Americans leads me to consider other lands where ethnic cleansing is occurring, particularly Palestine. For centuries Palestinians lived peacefully in villages with their Jewish neighbors; however, the huge numbers of Jews immigrating during the 20th c. have brought with them struggles over land and water. UN resolutions have been ignored, and now there is a concerted effort to seclude Palestinians in small enclaves, cut off from their crops and pastures, prevented from making their own livelihoods. Residents of Gaza must now purchase water from Israelis because the western aquifers are depleted before they reach the south. Settlers in outposts in the West Bank often provoke conflicts with those who have legal right to that territory. Where are these actions headed? I have often been asked why neighboring Arab states do not simply take in the Palestinians. I ask, Why should they? Many Palestinians are Christians, not Muslims, so they share a language, but not a religion with their neighbors. The neighboring states have their own problems, especially of water. But above all, Why should Palestinians leave their ancestral homes, sometimes of millenia?

    I pray that Israelis and Palestinians will make progress toward peace in the current meetings, that the ongoing conflicts will not continue on the path of ethnic cleansing and genocide. Many Jews oppose the actions of the Israeli government and feel the urgency of establishing safe borders for two separate states, pointing out that the founders of Israel were mostly secular Jews. Separating religion from politics would be a place to begin.

    So on Columbus Day I will continue to oppose ethnic cleansing in all parts of the world. Awareness of sins of the past should inspire us to avoid repeating the same disasters elsewhere.

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