Today is ‘Columbus Day’. It is a day where we ‘celebrate’ Columbus’ arrival in the America’s. Please read The Oatmeal’s Columbus Day Comic to understand the rest of what I am about to say.
When I taught in South Dakota we called it Native American Day, or Indigenous People’s Day. National Geographic reported in 2012 that we are losing an indigenous language once every 14-days and that in fifty years half of the 7,000 languages spoken on Earth will disappear.
I don’t want to celebrate that loss of culture that comes when people like Columbus come in and steal everything from the people who were already living in the America’s. I want to celebrate the language, the art, the spirituality, and the uniqueness of these different cultures.
Most of my last year was spent visiting our National Parks and celebrating the natural beauty of our country. There is one place in our country that I hope will never become a unit of our National Park Service.
That place is Crazy Horse Memorial in South Dakota. Crazy Horse was present at the Battle of the Hundred Hand (your history books probably called it the Fetterman Massacre), as well as the Battle of Little Bighorn. He was a leader among the Oglala Lakota and known for being shy and modest.
When Mount Rushmore was being built Luther Standing Bear, an Oglala Lakota, contacted sculptor Gutzon Borglum saying that it would be ‘most fitting to have the face of Crazy Horse sculpted there. Crazy Horse is the real patriot of the Sioux tribe and the only one worth to place by the side of Washington and Lincoln.’ Borglum never responded and in 1939 he reached out to Korczak Ziolkowski, who worked under Borglum. He said ‘My fellow chiefs and I would like the white man to know that the red man has great heroes, too.’
Since then they have worked to create the memorial without state or federal help. They support the project with visitor fees and donations.
All that being said, there is still controversy. Russell Means, a Lakota activist once said ‘imagine going to the holy land in Israel, whether you’re a Christian or a Jew or a Muslim, and start carving up the mountain of Zion. It’s an insult to our entire being.’
I don’t know how to reconcile everything. I actually don’t think it is possible. The only thing that I can do, I hope, is to educate you about Columbus Day and the ways that we can perhaps celebrate the native and indigenous people of our world.
All of us came from somewhere. Our ancestors lived a way of live where they had food, song, and spirituality that was unique to them. Maybe on Columbus Day we can celebrate those unique things about our cultures instead of the destruction of others.