Indigenous Women: Nations, Cultures, Voices

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Indigenous Peoples' Day 2018

b2ap3_thumbnail_taino-women.jpgThe second Monday in October in the United States was officially made Columbus Day by President Richard Nixon in 1972 in order to commemorate the voyage of Christopher Columbus and his landing in the Taino people's lands, islands that are now referred to as the Caribbean. In 1992 a Quincentennial celebration marking the 500-year anniversary of Columbus's 1492 expedition was observed by the United States and Spain. Billions of dollars were spent by both countries. The photograph at right is of Taino Indigenous women.

To Native American communities and nations throughout the Americas, the 500-year celebration was a deeply concerning matter. It seemed that no one had ever learned their history, or cared, that the voyage of Columbus opened a widespread genocide from the most northern reaches of Canada to the tip of South America: tens of millions of Indigenous peoples were kidnapped and sold into slavery, sex trafficked, militarily slaughtered, and died by the transmission of European disease. This outright carnage was explicitly endorsed in the religious Doctrine of Discovery, a Papal rule of law, written in 1452 by Pope Nicholas V. The Romanus Pontifex, as it was called, declared war against all non-Christians throughout the world and directed King Alfonso of Portugal to

"capture, vanquish, and subdue the saracens, pagans, and other enemies of Christ," to "put them into perpetual slavery," and "to take all their possessions and property."

This not only perpetuated and validated the African slave trade that was in full swing by these nations at this time, but it mandated that non-Christians be brought to the faith itself by any means and their lands taken. Though this is a 500 year old document, Native American leaders petition every newly appointed Pope and ask him to apologize and rescind this papal bull that flagrantly endorses genocide and environmental degradation. No Pope ever has.

b2ap3_thumbnail_vatican.jpgThe 13 Indigenous Grandmothers have repeatedly visited the Vatican to ask the current sitting Pope to rescind the Doctrine of Discovery. The grandmothers from the United States are Agnes Baker Pilgrim, of the Takelma Siletz in Grants Pass, Margaret Behan of the Arapaho/Cheyenne of Montana, Beatrice Long Visitor Holy Dance and Rita Long Visitor Holy Dance, both of Black Hills, S.D.

Aside from direct requests to rescind the papal doctrines, Indigenous Peoples respond in many ways to the annual celebration of the Columbian voyage. In the 1990s Indigenous leaders organized a hemispheric response to the Quincentennial that brought over 100 Native leaders to gatherings in Ecuador and Guatemala to address the absence of scholarship in colleges and universities and in public school curricula that allow the ignorance behind such celebrations to continue. From those conferences, a movement was nurtured; books were published; plans were made. b2ap3_thumbnail_international-council-of-thirteen-indigenous-grandmothers-492fee90-2dc5-4b88-be36-bd92eed321b-resize-750.jpg

Today, Alaska, Hawaii, Minnesota, Oregon, South Dakota, and Vermont all observe Native American or Indigenous Peoples' Day on the second Monday in October. Though these are only a few states, over 50 U.S. cities have made the change! This is real progress. Truth in education and a full telling of human history is the way forward on this, and all, matters of oppression. Your individual voice does count!

The Parliament of Religions offers a course in Indigenous Cultural Awareness:



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Dr. Mays is a professional writer with a doctoral degree in Native American Studies who has taught at the college level for nearly two decades. She is committed to educating about Indigenous cultures, especially about practices that specifically relate to women, in order to raise awareness about current issues in Indian Country, dissolve stereotypes, and create healing among all communities.


  • Anne Newkirk Niven
    Anne Newkirk Niven Wednesday, 10 October 2018

    Thanks for this great story; raising our kids in Point Arena we always made a point of noting this holiday as "Indigenous People's Day." I happen to be a big fan of the Oatmeal's discussion of Columbus Day.

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