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viewpoint

Response to the response to “The truth about Columbus”

| Thursday, October 26, 2017

Mr. Acri’s response saddened me for several reasons.

First, I appreciate the opportunity to clarify one thing. Mr. Acri seems to conflate me, an alumna in Connecticut, with a current student and member of the Knights of Columbus. I’m not a Knight and I don’t speak for the organization or Notre Dame’s council. I wish he had refrained from addressing Council 1477 on my behalf.

Second, I actually applaud the intentions and mission of the Native American Student Association of Notre Dame (NASAND). I do not attack them or Indigenous Peoples Day anywhere in my piece. What I do is point out NASAND’s implied link between increasing support for natives and decreasing Columbus’ legacy, in which it echoes the ongoing national movement. The framing of their Oct. 9 event implied a zero-sum game — either Columbus is recognized or the natives are recognized. However, the vast majority of my argument addresses the national movement, not NASAND’s event or the organization in general. I apologize for not being clearer about the distinction between the two; it would have helped prevent Mr. Acri and NASAND from feeling personally attacked.

I’m all for more recognition of these underrepresented communities. My piece was about why that does not have to come at the expense of Columbus’ legacy, in America or at Notre Dame. It’s simply not based in truth. To be clear — it’s not that we owe Columbus reverence, it’s that we owe native people real confrontation of their problems, not a misguided distraction that unnecessarily divides us.

I think Mr. Acri’s response makes it clear that such a calling out was necessary. He provided two brief quotations out of context as all the “well-informed public” needs to know about this entire historical question — and as if that weren’t “enough,” here’s one more, from a man, not Columbus, who flagrantly disobeyed the laws of the volatile European society that Columbus was trying to enforce there.

This was disappointing. I’ve seen these troubling quotations. They’re exactly why I spent months researching Columbus. I lost sleep over them. But they’re soundbites, and we all — especially in higher education — need to deeply probe such anecdotal, emotive arguments. Again, after serious study, I stand by what I said. Anyone who cares to read more deeply on this topic can see that Columbus was no monster. He was a much worse administrator than captain. He didn’t always put his good intentions into effect, especially when his men rebelled against him. He was not the world’s strongest leader, and his world was violent and characterized by many shades of racism. All true — and the same could be said of many significant historical figures.

What I object to — in the national movement, and at NASAND while they espouse it — is the singling out of Columbus as patient zero for Native Americans’ suffering.

It’s not unlike blaming William the Conqueror for the suffering of the Rohingya people today. His effect on England arguably paved the way for the powerful British empire, whose policies are at least partially responsible for the genocide the Rohingya now face.

This is tenuous, but so is saying that Columbus causes PTSD in teens on reservations in Arizona (which, again, is not NASAND’s claim, but rather the claim of a movement they’re currently associating with).

If we find a quotation of William’s, boasting about how his victory “shall shape the fortunes of generations to come” for example, or something similar, would that prove his responsibility for what happened years after his death? What else do we need?

It’s just a thought experiment, but it’s important. Mr. Acri claims that NASAND’s opposition to the murals isn’t really about Columbus. I wish that were true. Please, let’s make it true. I urge NASAND to continue to focus its energies on raising awareness, solving problems, and honoring the legacy of the peoples of the Americas, rather than wasting time on a symbol that has been blown out of proportion by political polarization and an inaccurate biography by Washington Irving.

It’s not liberating for natives to be wedded to the symbol of Columbus as oppressor for several reasons. It’s not really true, except for Arawaks and some Caribes, it’s certainly not helpful in meeting the real needs of native communities today and — most importantly — it diverts attention from the far more real and sinister oppressors they have had and continue to have today.

There are plenty of worthy targets of NASAND’s focus. Columbus is an easy target and a false one; leave him alone. Let’s open our eyes, see Columbus for who (and when) he was, see what he means in American and Catholic history, and move on to more important work.

And please, the next time someone raises a critique of your group, presume a little more good will and common ground than you did toward me. As student-leaders of Notre Dame, it’s our responsibility to model civil conversation.

Rebecca Devine
class of 2016
Oct. 25

The views expressed in this Letter to the Editor are those of the author and not necessarily those of The Observer.

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  • Becca Self

    Yesterday, Dom and I talked via linkedin message (thanks, Dom, for reaching out) and at one point in our conversation, we reached a point of understanding about our different points of emphasis. Here’s the comment I wrote, which may be helpful to readers:

    I know you don’t think the history about Columbus is the key issue here, but that is the key of what I’m saying. Imagine this – I could agree with you 100% about the murals needing to change or come down, and I would still make the same argument, objecting to the linkage of Columbus to the struggle for indigenous rights. Why have your protest of the murals on Columbus Day, if the problem is the depiction of the natives, and not Columbus per se? I think you have to admit that there’s an attack on Columbus within your greater project of recognition for natives at ND. My point is, its misguided. Your project is not – I’m with you. We can even agree that the murals are problematic (though I have to say when I’m being cynical, I think donors will oppose their removal vigorously). I just can’t agree that the truth and the history surrounding Columbus’ actual life, actions, intentions, and consequences don’t matter. That’s what I mean about intellectual integrity, so I’m sorry if that felt like a personal attack. It’s that in fighting for your just cause, you shouldn’t cut corners. If you don’t want to get into the history, then don’t. Claiming that Columbus was genocidal is a factual claim that needs serious backup. If you can’t provide it, make your argument with a different claim. I think this can be done very effectively in your case, which is why I very much hope that NASAND doesn’t stay locked on the Columbus issue.

  • warmupthediesel

    Boom. Roasted.

  • warmupthediesel

    Boom. Roasted.

  • warmupthediesel

    Boom. Roasted.

  • warmupthediesel

    Boom. Roasted.

  • warmupthediesel

    Boom. Roasted.

  • StepanCourtsDude

    I am a Notre Dame Alumnus from Arizona and Native American. First of all, I want to congratulate Rebecca on receiving her diploma from Notre Dame. I saw the LinkedIn profile. I am very familiar with Brophy and Xavier Prep. I have attended Mass with my niece, an ASU graduate, at St. Francis Xavier Parish. I have a younger niece who I hope attends Xavier Prep a few years from new when she gets to HS. Xavier and Brophy are well established for scholarly achievement and have sent many graduates to Notre Dame.

    In that regard, Rebecca’s historical analysis led her to conclude that Columbus was wrongfully accused of atrocities. A quick Google search can reveal a substantial set of URL links that have such negative (or rather, pejorative) comments on Columbus. But Rebecca remains steadfast on her assertion that Columbus is wrongfully accused. I have spent many years in graduate school with multiple degrees. In regards to such rigorous research, I would suggest a formal publication to assuage the naysayers on the exact details of evidence that Rebecca claims to exonerate Columbus from wrongful accusations. The research journals go through a rigorous peer review process on submitted articles before allowing it to be published. That would be the pragmatic approach to share the details of the research that Rebecca claims to counter the myths and online castigation of Columbus’ historical legacy. Moreover, the internet forums are usually not cooperative to a scholarly discussion based on objective evidence.

    I had a similar experience in my research on the Vietnam War. When I was in middle school, none of the teachers would discuss Vietnam. Then I saw the movie “More American Graffiti” with my parents and was told that we lost that war. As a young child, that made me angry. My grandfather was a patriotic WWII Veteran. His brother had served with the US Marines and the Navajo Code Talkers at Iwo Jima. So I was very upset about the history of Vietnam. I eventually did many years of research and studied Agent Orange in public health. I learned that many of the myths were not true: spread of Communism (unfounded – modern Vietnam is now capitalistic), Agent Orange only hurts plants (debunked by the very same scientist whose PhD dissertation served as the chemical’s production), the US never lost a battle (false – see FSB Ripcord in 1970 or LZ Albany in Ia Drang Valley). I also learned about friendly fire and the death of Captain James Carroll – a Notre Dame graduate who had an artillery base named after him posthumously. Captain Carroll had been on the Notre Dame Diving Team.

    As for the historical era of Columbus, I cannot proclaim to have done the research to truly learn the details of his participation in the atrocities of that era. I defer to the historical scholars who have spent many years studying the events of that region. That is why I respectfully suggest a publication of your analysis in a historical journal with a peer review process by experts in the field.

    I was at St. Francis over the weekend. I routinely run up Piestewa Peak and live in Phoenix. Best wishes on your career Rebecca. I am sure the teachers back at Xavier Prep are proud of you. Take care and God bless!

    ND Graduate
    Bookstore Basketball Enthusiast with a Rez Ball Context

  • StepanCourtsDude

    I am a Notre Dame Alumnus from Arizona and Native American. First of all, I want to congratulate Rebecca on receiving her diploma from Notre Dame. I saw the LinkedIn profile. I am very familiar with Brophy and Xavier Prep. I have attended Mass with my niece, an ASU graduate, at St. Francis Xavier Parish. I have a younger niece who I hope attends Xavier Prep in a few years when she gets to HS. Xavier and Brophy are well established for scholarly achievement and have sent many graduates to Notre Dame.

    In that regard, Rebecca’s historical analysis led her to conclude that Columbus was wrongfully accused of atrocities. A quick Google search can reveal a substantial set of URL links that have such negative (or rather, pejorative) comments on Columbus. But Rebecca remains steadfast on her assertion that Columbus is wrongfully accused. I have spent many years in graduate school with multiple degrees. In regards to such rigorous research, I would suggest a formal publication to assuage the naysayers on the exact details of evidence that Rebecca claims to exonerate Columbus from wrongful accusations. The research journals go through a rigorous peer review process on submitted articles before allowing it to be published. That would be the pragmatic approach to share the details of the research that Rebecca claims to counter the myths and online castigation of Columbus’ historical legacy. Moreover, the internet forums are usually not cooperative to a scholarly discussion based on objective evidence.

    I had a similar experience in my research on the Vietnam War. When I was in middle school, none of the teachers would discuss Vietnam. Then I saw the movie “More American Graffiti” with my parents and was told that we lost that war. As a young child, that made me angry. My grandfather was a patriotic WWII Veteran. His brother had served with the US Marines and the Navajo Code Talkers at Iwo Jima. So I was very upset about the history of Vietnam. I eventually did many years of research and studied Agent Orange in public health. I learned that many of the myths were not true: spread of Communism (unfounded – modern Vietnam is now capitalistic), Agent Orange only hurts plants (debunked by the very same scientist whose PhD dissertation served as the chemical’s production), the US never lost a battle (false – see FSB Ripcord in 1970 or LZ Albany in Ia Drang Valley). I also learned about friendly fire and the death of Captain James Carroll – a Notre Dame graduate who had an artillery base named after him posthumously. Captain Carroll had been on the Notre Dame Diving Team.

    As for the historical era of Columbus, I cannot proclaim to have done the research to truly learn the details of his participation in the atrocities of that era. I defer to the historical scholars who have spent many years studying the events of that region. That is why I respectfully suggest a publication of your analysis in a historical journal with a peer review process by experts in the field. The only point I would add is that I know most of the original tribes of that region are now extinct and do not have a true voice in the modern historical discussions.

    I was at St. Francis over the weekend. I routinely run up Piestewa Peak and live in Phoenix. Best wishes on your career Rebecca. I am sure the teachers back at Xavier Prep are proud of you. Take care and God bless!

    ND Graduate
    Bookstore Basketball Enthusiast with a Rez Ball Context

  • StepanCourtsDude

    I am a Notre Dame Alumnus from Arizona and Native American. First of all, I want to congratulate Rebecca on receiving her diploma from Notre Dame. I saw the LinkedIn profile. I am very familiar with Brophy and Xavier Prep. I have attended Mass with my niece, an ASU graduate, at St. Francis Xavier Parish. I have a younger niece who I hope attends Xavier Prep in a few years when she gets to HS. Xavier and Brophy are well established for scholarly achievement and have sent many graduates to Notre Dame.

    In that regard, Rebecca’s historical analysis led her to conclude that Columbus was wrongfully accused of atrocities. A quick Google search can reveal a substantial set of URL links that have such negative (or rather, pejorative) comments on Columbus. But Rebecca remains steadfast on her assertion that Columbus is wrongfully accused. I have spent many years in graduate school with multiple degrees. In regards to such rigorous research, I would suggest a formal publication to assuage the naysayers on the exact details of evidence that Rebecca claims to exonerate Columbus from wrongful accusations. The research journals go through a rigorous peer review process on submitted articles before allowing it to be published. That would be the pragmatic approach to share the details of the research that Rebecca claims to counter the myths and online castigation of Columbus’ historical legacy. Moreover, the internet forums are usually not cooperative to a scholarly discussion based on objective evidence.

    I had a similar experience in my research on the Vietnam War. When I was in middle school, none of the teachers would discuss Vietnam. Then I saw the movie “More American Graffiti” with my parents and was told that we lost that war. As a young child, that made me angry. My grandfather was a patriotic WWII Veteran. His brother had served with the US Marines and the Navajo Code Talkers at Iwo Jima. So I was very upset about the history of Vietnam. I eventually did many years of research and studied Agent Orange in public health. I learned that many of the myths were not true: spread of Communism (unfounded – modern Vietnam is now capitalistic), Agent Orange only hurts plants (debunked by the very same scientist whose PhD dissertation served as the chemical’s production), the US never lost a battle (false – see FSB Ripcord in 1970 or LZ Albany in Ia Drang Valley). I also learned about friendly fire and the death of Captain James Carroll – a Notre Dame graduate who had an artillery base named after him posthumously. Captain Carroll had been on the Notre Dame Diving Team.

    As for the historical era of Columbus, I cannot proclaim to have done the research to truly learn the details of his participation in the atrocities of that era. I defer to the historical scholars who have spent many years studying the events of that region. That is why I respectfully suggest a publication of your analysis in a historical journal with a peer review process by experts in the field.

    I was at St. Francis over the weekend. I routinely run up Piestewa Peak and live in Phoenix. Best wishes on your career Rebecca. I am sure the teachers back at Xavier Prep are proud of you. Take care and God bless!

    ND Graduate
    Bookstore Basketball Enthusiast with a Rez Ball Context

  • StepanCourtsIgnat

    I am a Notre Dame Alumnus from Arizona and Native American. I posted a response, but it was deleted as spam (LOL). First of all, I want to congratulate Rebecca on receiving her diploma from Notre Dame. I saw the LinkedIn profile. I am very familiar with Brophy and Xavier Prep. I have attended Mass with my niece, an ASU graduate, at St. Francis Xavier Parish. I have a younger niece who I hope attends Xavier Prep in a few years when she gets to HS. Xavier and Brophy are well established for scholarly achievement and have sent many graduates to Notre Dame.

    In that regard, Rebecca’s historical analysis led her to conclude that Columbus was wrongfully accused of atrocities. A quick Google search can reveal a substantial set of URL links that have such negative (or rather, pejorative) comments on Columbus. But Rebecca remains steadfast on her assertion that Columbus is wrongfully accused. I have spent many years in graduate school with multiple degrees. In regards to such rigorous research, I would suggest a formal publication to assuage the naysayers on the exact details of evidence that Rebecca claims to exonerate Columbus from wrongful accusations. The research journals go through a rigorous peer review process on submitted articles before allowing it to be published. That would be the pragmatic approach to share the details of the research that Rebecca claims to counter the myths and online castigation of Columbus’ historical legacy. Moreover, the internet forums are usually not cooperative to a scholarly discussion based on objective evidence.

    I cannot proclaim to have studied a plethora of formal scholarly journals on Columbus. Therefore, my response on an internet forum would not have a foundation of thorough research. I briefly skimmed Google links and found most to be subjective websites. I know that major research institutions usually disregard random websites or newspaper articles. I did find one journal at the American Heritage site with an interesting article by Edward T. Stone on Columbus (1975). But that is only one of many. I defer to the historical scholars who have spent many years studying the events of that region. That is why I respectfully suggest a publication of your analysis in a historical journal with a peer review process by experts in the field who have spent decades studying the history of Columbus and that period of colonization. I do need to point out the tragic reality that the indigenous people of that era do not have a voice in the modern discussions because they are now extinct. A Catholic priest, Father Las Casas, admired Columbus and saw him as a hero who had received divine guidance to the New World. But he also pointed out the horrifying treatment of the natives that had originally inhabited the island. The Arawaks were systematically killed off and enslaved to the point of extinction by the early 1500s. To be fair, many of the worse massacres occurred when Columbus was ill and his subordinates became recalcitrant. However, a rigorous historical analysis that exonerates Columbus from participating in such atrocities would be most fairly given review in a publication. An online forum often just leads to “internet flaming” with loss of context and civil communication.

    I had a similar experience on a controversial topic – Agent Orange in the Vietnam War. I studied the details of the conflict and the use of Agent Orange in Operation Ranch Hand from 1962-1971. I started doing independent research on Vietnam because none of my teachers would discuss the topic in middle school and HS. It was a taboo subject. Ironically, the aversion elevated my curiosity. Eventually, I did GIS research on Agent Orange exposure. I had read many books, articles, and government guidance documents over many years. I am well aware of the myths, controversy, and division of public opinion regarding Vietnam. There were many protests. My impression is you did a similar intensity of research on Columbus based on inner motivation like Agent Orange was for me. I just wanted to know the truth, and it was horrifying. But history often has that reality.

    I was at St. Francis Xavier Parish over the weekend. I routinely hike up Piestewa Peak and live in Phoenix. Best wishes on your career Rebecca. I am sure the teachers back at Xavier Prep are proud of you. Take care and God bless!

    ND Graduate
    Bookstore Basketball Enthusiast with a Rez Ball Context