Wednesday, October 12, 2016

Happy Columbus (Not “Indigenous Peoples’”) Day!

           I could not let today pass without celebrating Columbus Day, the anniversary of the discovery in 1492 by Christopher Columbus, on behalf of Spain, of the Western Hemisphere, with all due respect to Indigenous Americans.

            There has been a recent trend in some jurisdictions across the American Union to rename the holiday “Indigenous Peoples’ Day” or some similar name.  This slighting of Columbus is the result of a misunderstanding of the word discovery, as if honoring the European discovery of the “New World,” possibly out of too much Euro-centrism, somehow ignores the prior settlement of the Western Hemisphere by Indigenous Americans.  The misunderstanding is influenced additionally by liberal multiculturalism and political correctness.  As I have noted on other Columbus Days, discovery means the uncovering of something—from the perspective of the discoverer, which means that the discoverer need not be the first person to discover something in order to be credited with a discovery. 

For Europeans in the time of Columbus, the cover concealing the two hemispheres was the ocean.  Because of his great observational and navigational skills, Columbus, unlike anyone before him, permanently joined two worlds together.  As a result, the peoples of the two worlds have discovered each other.  Thus, there is no detraction from the first discovery of the Western Hemisphere by those adventurous Asians who bravely crossed the land bridge with Siberia to people the New World.   

            Whenever two peoples who had never, or at least minimally, been in contact with each other, do come into significant contact with each other, there is always the danger of the spread of disease because of the exposure to contagion without immunities.  Because of human nature, there is also the problem of conflict or exploitation.   Although there were good relations between some Europeans and Native Americans, all of these problems were manifested, with often tragic consequences for the First Americans.  At the same time, many Indigenous Americans were freed by the European colonizers from the dangers of conquest by other American tribes and the particular horrors of cannibalism and human sacrifice on a massive scale.  The Indigenous Americans were also freed spiritually through the evangelization of the Christian Faith and through the benefits of modern science and the development of Western political thought, such as liberty and representative government.  It is, therefore, appropriate, while acknowledging past tragedies and sins, to celebrate the anniversary of the discovery of the Western Hemisphere, without any disrespect to anyone.

            In the Spanish-speaking countries of America, inhabited largely by Indigenous Americans, October 12 is celebrated as the “Day of the Races,” which acknowledges the meeting of the two peoples through Columbus’s encountering of the First Americans after landing on an island in the Caribbean.  I suppose referring to the day as “Discovery Day,” for example, would also be appropriate.  The point is to acknowledge one of the most important watershed events in human history, while respecting both Europeans and Indigenous Americans.  Continuing to call the day “Columbus Day,” does not constitute any disrespect to those who first inhabited the Western Hemisphere.  The First Americans cannot be forgotten on Columbus Day, as they are an essential part of the story, while there are other days and ways to honor them more particularly.  The United States celebrates Thanksgiving, for example, to give thanks to God for the abundance early European colonists enjoyed in the New World, which was attained through the critically-significant help of Indigenous Americans.  Other American countries reserve commemorative dates on their calendars and acknowledge their heritage in various ways, while the Church honors Indigenous American Saints with Feasts.  Respect for the rights of indigenous peoples in America and around the world is most essential.  

           I wish all Americans, including those who are Indigenous, a Happy Columbus Day!

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