Brutal history cited

To the Journal editor:

I appreciated seeing The Mining Journal’s coverage of the Indigenous People’s Day events held at Northern Michigan University on Monday.

At the same time, it was disheartening to see repeated references to Oct. 11 as Columbus Day in many media outlets, with little or no mention of the fact that this date has also been observed as Indigenous People’s Day since the 1990s in many parts of the country and officially, in Michigan, for the past two years.

Although doubt may be cast on the accomplishments of any historical figure, it is not my purpose here to deny the significance of Columbus’ voyage to the Americas. As a child, I was inspired by the courage of Columbus and sailors, who ventured across the sea into the unknown, a journey almost everyone expected to end in disappointment and death. Nonetheless, Columbus’ “discovery” also marked a tragedy: the beginning of the end for the flourishing culture of people native to North and South America.

Although no one knows the precise number, tens of millions of Indian people lived here before Columbus arrived. By 1800, that number had been reduced by 90%, due to disease, displacement and warfare (which often amounted to murder, given the technological advantages possessed by European colonists.)

By 1900, most of the indigenous people remaining in the Americas had been relegated to reservations or stripped almost completely of native culture, language and religion while being forced to adopt a way of life alien to them. Ever since, generations of native people have struggled with deep wounds left by this experience, as they face the challenge of reclaiming their identity while finding a way to thrive despite obstacles to education, health, and employment.

Not even to mention this on “Columbus Day” represents a failure to listen to the voices of native people calling for change here in the U.P. and throughout the U.S. Now that Northern Michigan University has acknowledged Indigenous People’s Day and the President of the United States has added it to the national calendar, adding it to our own would be, at least, a beginning.

A great way to learn about and appreciate the story of native people in the Upper Peninsula region would be to visit the “Seventh Fire” exhibit at the Beaumier U.P. Heritage Center (across from the De Vos Art Museum) on the NMU campus.

You will find it well worth your time.


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