Columbus Day becomes Indigenous Peoples’ Day
Christopher Columbus was an asshole.
Today, most of America is celebrating Columbus Day. However, I refuse to honor that horrible excuse for a human being, instead celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day. For those unaware of the degree to which Columbus was terrible – that is to say, for most people who went through the American public schooling system – here is one of many links you can peruse proving the man was downright evil. So in recent years, there’s been a move to stop honoring a genocidal asshole, and to start honoring the indigenous people who populated this continent before a bunch of Europeans claimed it for their own.
The Zuni are one of the Pueblo peoples, indigenous to what is now Western New Mexico and Eastern Arizona. However, in their own language, they live in Halona Idiwan’a – much prettier, don’t you think? Archaeologically speaking, the Zunis have occupied this region since about 2,000 BCE. Their linguistic culture and identity is even older still – dating to around 6,000 BCE. Prior to European meddling, the Zunis had set up pueblos in the region ranging in size from a couple hundred to almost 1,500 rooms each – entire internal villages. The Spanish saw to that, and by the 16th century, only six smaller villages remained.
While today, the Zunis are a federally recognized American Indian tribe, for much of American history they were persecuted in much the same way as every other indigenous people. First they were studied, then they were subjugated, then they were ghettoized. Thankfully, their culture has held strong, and their religious practices and language are still being maintained on their original tribal homelands. In fact, they recently shut down a utility’s attempts to strip-mine on their land.
The Wheeler Expedition (1871-1879)
For eight years, an expedition led by Lieutenant George M. Wheeler lit out each year to explore the regions West of the 100th meridian. By this point, the transcontinental railroad was running, but much of the country was still largely unexplored. On the first 4 of these surveys, government photographer created stereoscopic records of the journey. Included with these are many shots of various indigenous peoples; I decided to focus on one of the Zuni images from the 1873 expedition.
I did this because I was in “The Indian Guides” – where we learned about American Indian and First Nations culture, and whittled on sticks and such. And I was in our local “Zuni tribe”. While I realize that, by today’s more enlightened standards, this was a problematic organization, it actually did serve to imbue me with a lifelong respect for indigenous people. I stopped celebrating Columbus Day before I was a teenager. I give annually to the National Museum of the American Indian, and suggest that you do as well – they do excellent work.
At this point, I must pause to give a shout-out to my new friend Eric Edelman, who gifted me with a set of 100 cards from the first three expeditions. While clearly a complete set of some sort, it does not conform to sets I can readily find information about. After I research it further, expect to see more of these. Although I’m rarely excited by Holmes cards, I’m excited by these.
This post is dedicated to the indigenous people of North America, past and present.