Over the past few weeks, some friends and I have been organizing to host an All Nations Four Directions March and Rally to transform Columbus Day in Denver, Colorado.
We’ve been taking every opportunity we can to chat with folks about why we need to abolish this racist holiday. I’ve spoken in my classes. At work, I’ve shared with customers the truth about Columbus when given the opportunity. We’ve reached out to media. We’ve handed out fliers at the local powwows – anything to share the word that Columbus Day has got to go.
In my lobbying, thus far, only one person has refused to listen and acknowledge Columbus Day was harmful.
This person told me he didn’t believe in Columbus and the day didn’t exist in his world because he chose to celebrate Indigenous People’s Day instead.
“Here in Colorado,” I replied, “Columbus Day is still an issue. That holiday started here and it needs to be abolished here.”
I explained further the reason this holiday needed to be abolished – that we can no longer celebrate colonial legacies. The man continued to refuse to listen to what I was saying, and I felt like he’d argue forever, so I simply moved on.
For days after this conversation his words continued to vex me. This person refused to acknowledge genocidal tactics and forced colonization Columbus and invading nations brought to us, the indigenous peoples. How does one reach a state of mind where they ignore symptoms of colonization each of us face every single day? If we’re not to acknowledge genocidal tendencies and go about our merry day, then who are we? As an indigenous woman, I am forced to recognize the genocidal and colonial legacies Columbus left our people because there’s no way around it.
My family has survived the tactic residential schools used during the infamous “Kill the Indian, Save the Man.”
My family is learning how to be survivors of the missing and murdered indigenous women struggle.
My family is learning how to be survivors of alcohol and drug abuse.
My family is learning how to be survivors of genocide.
I argue Columbus brought this destruction to us.
He murdered our women first.
He mutilated us and raped us.
He brought death and disease, which changed in time to become a sickness of drug and alcohol abuse.
He stole our land and our resources to expand his pockets.
This might sound familiar up in Standing Rock, North Dakota, where our relatives are still fighting for land rights and against extractive industries 524 years later.
All of our struggles are related and will continue until we dismantle these racist, colonial tendencies brought forth by a man named Christopher Columbus who does not deserve a holiday and never has.
Let’s stay vigilant and remove this holiday and together we can build a better future for our next generations.
Tessa McLean, Ojibwe, is a student, scholar, and activist from Pinaymootang First Nation. McLean is a United Nations Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues delegate, and a member of American Indian Movement Colorado.