October 11, 2022
Dear Friends of Hallie Q. Brown,
I am often at a loss, of what to say, every time the second Monday in October rolls around. Growing up, we learned about how Christopher Columbus discovered America. We had assemblies honoring him and at some point, a holiday. Lesson after lesson about how he opened up or discovered the “New World” as if it lay dormant prior to his arriving…We even learned rhymes about when he sailed the “ocean blue.”
And then somewhere in those formative years, you learn about Amerigo Vespucci and that the Americas are named after him, and you begin to puzzle why not after Christopher, who discovered the “New World,” who braved the oceans and opened up the trade routes and accomplished so much, it is no wonder there is a day named after him…and yet…it never seemed to complete the story, to make sense, to really fit in history.
And that’s when you learn more of the story. How Christopher Columbus was lost and didn’t really realize that he was mistaking the Caribbean for Asia and never actually set foot in what would become the United States. And you wonder what else you don’t know or haven’t been taught. And you learn that his actions in Hispaniola open the door for the Transatlantic Slave Trade some 50 odd years after he landed, leading to the genocide, subjugation, oppression, rape, and so much more of an estimated 15-20 Million Africans.
But more importantly, you learn about what he did to the Indigenous populations. You learn that he forced them into Slavery which led to their deaths in numbers so great that they went from 300,000 to 500 (50,000 of those in a mass suicide rather than comply with the Spanish) in the span of 56 years. You learn how he captured women and girls as young as 9 and 10 and sold them into sexual slavery. You learn how he forced every Indian over the age of 14 to collect gold for him or die. You learn all of these things and that there is still more, but it sickens you and you stop to wonder HOW in the world they could name a holiday after him?!?!
But you still don’t know what to say…
And then you learn the history of the holiday and the first celebration that was done by Tammany Hall celebrating the 300th anniversary of his “discovery;” and President Benjamin Harrison issuing a proclamation to celebrate the 400th anniversary; and later efforts to continue by the Knights of Columbus…and you begin to wonder why all these people revel in the mass subjugation and genocide of over 55 million Indigenous people.
But you still don’t know what to say…
Because what do you say to our Native brothers and sisters that can, in anyway, encapsulate the frustration, sadness, empathy and righteous anger you feel on their behalf for the injustices and violations that have been done. How do you express the rage you feel when you envision the atrocities committed, knowing that it pales in comparison to their own; knowing that people still celebrate, still hold in high regard, still debate who REALLY “discovered” America…ignoring the fact that their ancestors were already here.
I will never know completely what to say, but I can say this to my Native brothers and sisters, I am sorry. I am sorry that your land, your culture, your people were stolen from you. I’m sorry for the boarding schools and the westward expansion. I’m sorry for the Trail of Tears and the 32 Dakota members wrongly murdered by the US government in Mankato. I am sorry for all of this that came from a confused, exploitive, malicious creature that got lost on his way to Asia.
I’m not sorry because I bear some responsibility or am descended from Christopher Columbus, I’m sorry because I am an American, with compassion, who can recognize when a great wrong has been done, and the benefits that we all enjoy because of it. The land we stand on, the farming we do, the very existence of non-Indigenous people in this country who could not have survived without the aid of Native people. I’m sorry because I can recognize the truth and know that there will never be enough justice for the atrocities, no matter what is done.
And so, I will just say thank you my Native brothers and sisters for the strength that lives on in you, for the endurance you have and the grace you show to these trespassers, myself included, who stand upon your land. Thank you for continuing to move forward and to stand as an example of civility and honor. Thank you for your courage and peace. You honor all those who came before you and you teach all of us who are around you what it means to be human.
For more information and details on this and other significant periods of history, please visit our Addressing Systemic Racism page on our website.