Today, most people know that the legacy and achievements of the explorer, Christopher Columbus, who the nation once dutifully celebrated, depict a false narrative, honoring a man who initiated the colonization of the peoples indigenous to the Americas.
I wonder if most people realize just how far-reaching the impact of Columbus and his voyages truly were. Within a century of European arrival, entire communities had begun to disappear. Natives were killed. They were enslaved. They died of disease. And they were brutally exploited for their land and belongings.
We cannot go back in time and change the attitudes of colonists and conquerors of a time now far away, men who thought whatever they “discovered” was theirs to take. But we can act in a way that shows we will no longer celebrate the exploitation of one people by another.
Many cities, counties and universities have begun celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day or Native American Day, instead of Columbus Day. It is a way of acknowledging the truth about the past, so we can make positive changes in the present. It is honoring the achievements of indigenous peoples whose social, cultural, artistic, musical, scholarly, and literary accomplishments have contributed so much to our country.
It is especially appropriate for Virginians. On October 3, 2018, members of seven Virginia tribes gathered to celebrate being formally recognized by the federal government. They gathered at Werowocomoco, in Gloucester County, on land once occupied by their ancestors. It’s been a long time coming. The Pamunkey, Chickahominy, Chickahominy Eastern Division, Monacan, Nansemond, Rappahannock, and Upper Mattaponi have been fighting for federal recognition for decades. The designation guarantees the tribes sovereignty to decide their own destiny. It restores to them rights that were stolen generations ago. Rappahannock Chief, Anne Richardson voiced the feelings of tribal members, “This is liberty for us. This is justice for us. We’re finally seeing the promises that are inherent in our constitution that we’ve been left out of all these years.”
HAPPY INDIGENOUS PEOPLES’ DAY!!
Sharon Canfield Dorsey is an award-winning poet and author of a memoir, Daughter of the Mountains, two children’s books, Herman the Hermit Crab and the Mystery of the Big, Black, Shiny Thing; and Revolt of the Teacups. Her poetry is also included in an anthology, Captured Moments. WATCH FOR A NEW CHILDREN’S BOOK IN NOVEMBER, 2018.