In 1492, Columbus sailed the Ocean Blue.
This is about all I remember from the poem about the Italian explorer who, for better or worse, changed our world forever. I didn’t realize this was part of a longer poem that ends with, The first American? No, not quite. But Columbus was brave and he was bright.
As an art historian, I value knowing and learning history. I think we need to look at how we as a nation have formed and grown. This means looking at it from as holistic perspective as possible – the good, the bad, the ugly. I believe this means rewriting our history books to reflect how history actually happened. I know that the victors get to write the story, but since we know better, why not do better?
Our school district doesn’t observe Columbus Day. It’s a normal day, though I’ll be interested to see what Bea comes home with today. Will they learn this same poem that i did? Will Columbus be the hero of the story? Even though he never set foot in North America, we have claimed him as our own. How will Bea’s teacher handle this with a class of culturally diverse five-year-olds?
There has been a lot of a debate in our nation recently about how to write history. How do we remember well the victories and atrocities that have created our nation’s story? How do we honor and respect our story without glamorizing racism and oppression?
Simple ways to start are by talking with our kids about the real story. What were some of the repercussions of Spain’s conquest? How do we still see the results? I don’t see myself having a conversation about genocide with my kindergartener but I can talk with her about taking land, about forcing people out of their homes, about some of those realities.
For adults, here are just a small handful of resources to get you started. Sometimes simply, listening to the voices of others is the best place to begin this work of justice and reconciliation for Indigenous peoples.
Read Indigenous Authors
My favorites are Louise Erdrich and Sherman Alexie. Erdrich has written many stunning novels, but I’d start with her newest, LaRose about a family who lose their son in a hunting accident and the subsequent call for justice and atonement.
Alexie’s The Absolutely True Diary of a Part-Time Indian is a YA novel about a young Spokane Indian boy who attends an all-white high school. Both books tackle identity and history of Indigenous people who live on reservations, and how that shapes their worldview.
Watch the Kairos Blanket Project
The Kairos Blanket Project focuses on Canadian relationships with Indigenous people, however it is not much different from the United States’ relationship with land occupation. It’s a stunning visual presentation on the impact of land distribution over the centuries.
Follow Indigenous Social Media Accounts
On Twitter, Kaitlin Curtiss is my favorite. She’s a smart, articulate activist who blends her Christian faith with her Native American roots. She is also the author of the upcoming book, Glory Happening. I’m about halfway through and am loving her slow, meditative style.
On Instagram, Melaney G. Lyall posts her own homemade jewelry, her Kairos blanket facilitations, as well as thoughtful posts from an Indigenous point-of-view about world events.
Reframe the Story
Spend some time putting yourself in the story. Imagine if someone with weapons far greater than you can even imagine came and took your home, destroyed your neighborhood, killed your family. You cannot fight back, you cannot resist. Or imagine being tricked into thinking that your friendly new neighbors wanted to learn all about your culture, only to enslave you. Really put yourself into this story – not in an idealistic way but in a realistic way. Sometimes, spending time with the story is enough.
I recently read The Sparrow by Mary Doria Russell. She reimagined the early expeditions but in space. It was a fascinating look on human nature and what we might do with the hindsight of history.
I think the key to reconciliation is stopping and recognizing inequality. How can we start to break patterns of injustice, one holiday at a time?
How did you learn about Christopher Columbus? What are some ways you’re learning about the other side of this story?
This post is Day 9 of the Write 31 Days Challenge. I’m spending the month of October writing about the Backyard Justice. You can find the entire series over at my Backyard Justice page.