On October 12, many will reflect on the date for numerous reasons.
Some will reference a “‘lost” explorer, and the day celebrated in his honor: Columbus Day is a holiday in the United States that commemorates the landing of Christopher Columbus on October 12, 1492, in the New World (what is today referred to as the United States of America), and observed the second Monday in October.
Whether it is because the U.S. Census Bureau reports an increase in the number of people who identified as American Indian and Alaska Native, either or in combination with other races; or maybe this community and others of consciousness and conscience are speaking out, whatever the case, more states have dispensed with paying homage with Columbus Day.
It’s important to note that Maine, New Mexico and South Dakota no longer celebrate Columbus Day and it is referred to as Native Americans Day in South Dakota.
Still other states, while acknowledging the second Monday in October as Indigenous Peoples Day, Columbus Day remains the official state holiday.
To date Alaska, Arizona, Hawaii, Iowa, Louisiana, Maine, Minnesota, Nevada, New Mexico, Oregon, South Dakota, Vermont and Wisconsin observe this day, but it is not a paid holiday. In a report released by the Lakota People’s Law Project, the plight of our Indigenous brothers and sisters continues to be a battle.
“Indigenous Peoples’ fight for recognition and respect has been a centuries-long process that raises the need to acknowledge the ongoing genocide of Indigenous peoples. Tribes, intertribal organizations, and allies constantly work together to bring awareness to the ongoing issues affecting Native Peoples throughout Turtle Island -such as land reclamation, land acknowledgement, rebuilding of Native nations, and the epidemic of missing and murdered Indigenous peoples.”
It’s interesting that Turtle Island is the name many native American cultures refer to North America, and the turtle is a symbol of life and earth.
I’ve also heard “turtle” used to describe a great man who was born on October 12, 1932.
Dick Gregory would often say, “I’m like a turtle — hard on the outside, soft on the inside, and always willing to stick my neck out!”
Which brings me to my truth.
Actually it’s kind of ironic to talk about Dick Gregory and Indigenous People sharing a day of recognition.
At his Homegoing celebration, members of several nations came to pay tribute to Mr. Gregory because they knew he was a true friend to the Indigenous.
And we must be friends too because we ALL know what colonization has done.
So as we pay tribute to Mr. Gregory and to Indigenous People, there are a few things we can begin with recognizing — and I am sure Mr. Gregory and our Indigenous brothers and sisters will agree:
- Everything is NOT funny
- Do not refer to Totem Poles (ie. “Low man on the totem pole) —they are symbolic and monuments. According to Alice Huang of First Nations Studies, and my sister friend Patty Talahongva – past president of the Native American Journalists Association.
- Do not say “Indian Giver” — While Indian Country Today references author Thomas Hutchinson’s definition as “something for which an equivalent return is expected,” that is not how the term is used. Instead it is mostly used as it is defined in dictionaries as, “A person who gives someone something, then wants it back.”
- Now I am ready for the pushback on mascot names. I just ask,”why would you use a name that people tell you is offensive to them? WHY?
- Don’t use Powwow when scheduling a meeting — powwows are celebration of Native heritage, art and community, says Benny Wayne Sully, a Sicangu Lakota Native.
- Stop appropriating language, symbols, and traditions of Native Americans — Did you know that prior to 1978 there were federal laws preventing Native Americans from practicing their culture?
- Don’t call them Indians. They are Native American, Indigenous or First Nations. OK, you say you’ve heard Natives call one another, “Indians.” Well, you have heard Black people call one another the title of Mr. Gregory’s best-seller, “Nigger.” What are you gonna do?
- Stop dressing up as Natives — Race and Culture are not costumes
- Don’t say you’re Native if you aren’t enrolled in a tribe — I don’t care how high your cheekbones are!
There’s so much more to learn. I could go on, but in the spirit of our ancestors and Mr. Gregory; do the research. We all really need to learn about ALL people and we could be on our way to making this world a better place.
Begin today with respect. Learn more about Indigenous people and govern yourself accordingly.
If not, you’re just another “Pretendian!”