For many years and on the second Monday of every October, North America has celebrated a holiday termed “Columbus Day.” It is to mark the ‘discovery of America by Christopher Columbus’ and to celebrate the ‘finding’ of the land that many white Americans call home. For those who don’t know the history of North America, this celebration makes it sound like North America was an empty and uninhabited land that Christopher Columbus stumbled upon. Those ignorant of North America’s history will not know that many other nations of people existed upon the land that is now known and celebrated as North America, the land of dreams. Many will not know that the coming of Christopher Columbus and other white Europeans to this land led to the genocide of the original peoples of the land. Many will not know that the white folks massacred and killed the original people of the land and systematically erased their presence from the land to call it their own. America, the Land of Freedom and Dreams.
Today I want to join the many who know and who therefore ask that today be appropriately marked “Indigenous People’s Day” in acknowledging the land and its peoples.
Today, I want to ask us all to pause and mourn for the nations that were inhumanely treated by those who sought a better life for themselves.
Today, I want to ask us all to pause and remember…
Remembering land and people ownership goes beyond a day’s celebration. It requires intentional bringing back of what was infamously stolen and eradicated.
It requires creating space in our learning and interactions to validate the ownership and gift of the Indigenous People and their land to humanity. This beautiful land that we now call home IS home on account of those to whom it belonged by birth and culture. The beauty we embrace in nature in this land is the same beauty the owners of the land saw in their land before they were killed for it. The rivers and forests and animals and beautiful sunsets. All these have been breathed upon and mutually caressed by the Indigenous People who leaned into the blessings of what the land had to offer them. Until they were killed for their land…
Remembering means strengthening that which evil chose to steal, kill and destroy. It means re-igniting knowledge of the land and its peoples, their heritage, culture and contributions to the world.
Remembering means visibility.
Before I left the Presbyterian Church (USA) denomination, one of the things I was happy about was their implementation of the mandatory reflection upon the land and its indigenous people. This was required for every meeting of its presbyteries, synods, etc.. However, not all entered into the practice because for some in the majorly white denomination, the sins of their ancestors would be hitting too close to home. Entering such a practice would most certainly awaken feelings of guilt, repentance and humility towards the land and non-white people and many white folks are not used to feeling humble before non-white people. They are not used to seeing wrongs in their actions towards non-white people and they are most definitely not used to apologizing to non-white people. Their sense of ownership of the land and the systems in it would reduce by this simple practice. So some did not embrace it.
Such remembrance as was instituted by the PCUSA General Assembly would help to establish the spirit of the Indigenous People among us. The generosity and hospitality of spirit which we somehow wrongly assume is uniquely American is simply the spirit of the Indigenous People. The generosity and hospitality with which they greeted and welcomed the white people and which was later abused by the white people who wanted their land.
Such remembrance would remind us all that outside of Indigenous People, none of us really ‘own’ the land, space and privileges in America. Instead, we would see that we are continuing to feast on the table of the generosity and hospitality of the Indigenous People.
For as long as we live in this land called North America, we are all guests. Guests of the generosity and hospitality of Indigenous People and their land. Every bit of pleasure and gain we get from this land is at the cost of the Indigenous People and their land, and for that, we ought to be humble and grateful, everyday and in every way.
We ought to demonstrate our gratitude by being equally generous and hospitable to one another.
We ought to demonstrate our gratitude by fighting injustice against anyone in the land.
We ought to demonstrate our gratitude by supporting and strengthening the poor and the weak rather than exploiting them and their vulnerable positions.
We ought to demonstrate that those of us who live in this land that came at the cost of the murdering of multitudes of its peoples will never again allow such an infamy occur in thoughts, words, or deeds towards others.
We must remember in order to celebrate and in celebration, we must uphold lessons that come from our remembering, that this land is Indigenous land and belongs to indigenous people and we are guests. And as guests, we must learn to be respectful of the land and its peoples, both past and present. In remembering, we must honor the land and its people in order to correct the wrongs inflicted by those who paved the way for all of us to be here.
Happy Indigenous People Day! I am so thankful that changing Columbus Day to Indigenous People Day was one of the first things our 46th President chose to do. That was a call to national remembrance of the true story of North America. Now, let us stay true to that remembrance by doing right by the land and its occupants.