Albuquerque; St. Paul, Minnesota; Portland, Oregon; Alaska; South Dakota; Olympia, Washington; Berkeley, California; Minneapolis; Seattle; Andarko, Oklahoma.
Should Durango join this list of cities that have switched from Columbus Day to some version of Indigenous Peoples Day?
Fort Lewis College student Ruthie Edd thinks so, and she’s not alone.
“Ruthie came to our committee to ask for our support,” said Mariah Bulaywaghee Gachupin, co-chairwoman of this year’s Real History of the Americas, which held its eighth outing Monday. “We agreed it was a good idea.”
There are a lot of reasons the change makes sense for Durango, Edd said, including the history of the honoree.
“With regard to Columbus’ character, historical accounts verify that he personally enslaved and colonized thousands of indigenous people during his lifetime,” she said, “and opened the door for war, disease, the organized slave trade and the death of nearly 90 percent of indigenous populations. Columbus played a pivotal role in both the trans-Atlantic slave trade and one of the world’s largest genocides.”
Perhaps the most important reason for Durango to make the change, Edd said, is its location. Situated near both reservations in Colorado, the Southern Ute and Ute Mountain Ute Indian reservations, near a wealth of sites of pre-Columbian populations as preserved at Mesa Verde National Park and Chimney Rock and Canyons of the Ancients national monuments, as well as being seated near Mount Hesperus, one of the Navajo Nation’s sacred mountains, Durango is clearly set in Indian Country.
“Durango is also the hometown of Fort Lewis College,” Edd said, “a former Native American boarding school and one of two colleges nationwide to offer a tuition waiver for Native American students.”
Most history books in the United States, The Atlantic writer Jake Flanigan said, cover Native Americans as discovered by Columbus, sharing a Thanksgiving with Puritan pilgrims, defeating Custer at the Battle of the Little Bighorn and dying on the brutal Trail of Tears.
“Essentially, this educational strategy frames the entire Native American experience as one of tragedy,” Flanigan said in a piece on the website Quartz, “which, over the last 300 years or so, it certainly has been – but totally neglects the fact that pre-Columbian America was just as diverse, socially and politically complicated, and frankly as exciting as Europe or the Middle East. There was warfare, diplomatic intrigue, rich mythology, innovation in the arts, sciences and mathematics and so much more going on than modern history books would have you believe.”
That exciting story is a large part of the purpose for the Real History of the Americas at FLC, which had a theme of “Telling our stories through dance” this year. Among the activities offered Monday were an opening prayer by Betty and Eddy Box Jr., a “Basket Weaving Dance” by FLC alumna Anne Pesata, and I am Dance workshop with facilitators from Common Ground, a bilingual “Star-Spangled Banner” in English and Diné (Navajo) by FLC student Olivia Duncan and a performance by Ballet Folklórico de Durango.
“We saw dance as a way of healing,” Gachupin, who self-identifies from the Jemez Pueblo, said. “Sometimes it’s easier to move to a beat or a tone rather than using your voice.”
A 12-hour experience, with attendees coming and going throughout the day, Real History drew from a diverse crowd of all ages.
“My biggest focus was making people feel welcome,” said co-chairwoman Stephanie Lefthand, who self-identifies as being of Taos Pueblo and Spanish heritage, “including everybody and giving it that family feel.”
Real History’s goal is to take a different look at history through the viewpoints of Native American, African, Hispanic, lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, questioning and Asian peoples.
That was the focus of Las Cafeteras’ “Racism: ‘Ain’t Nobody Got Time for That!” Las Cafeteras, this year’ guest artists, hail from East Los Angeles and have created a participatory workshop on breaking down stereotypes. Band member and playwright Daniel French said history tends to be written from the perspective of white, wealthy, educated, able-bodied men.
“Whose story is it in books?” he asked. “It’s their story, a certain kind of story being told from a certain place.”
French told Columbus’ story from the perspective of the Tainos, the indigenous tribe of the island in the Caribbean Sea where the explorer first landed.
“Who the hell is that?” he imagined the Tainos saying. “We found some white-skinned dude on the other side of the island, he doesn’t have papers or anything.”