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Indigenous response to ‘Cultural Colonialism’

| Tuesday, October 29, 2019

I would like the author of “Cultural Colonialism” to clarify some of her statements made in her column in The Observer. While I understand the overall sentiment of not demonizing Trump supporters, I find the comparison to the brutal subjugation and genocide of Indigenous people since Columbus stumbled upon the “New” World to be ignorant at best. A response to a base that actively works to disenfranchise minorities is not even remotely in the same world as literal genocides. I wish the author would have spoken to these people they write about, as she’ll find that many people who oppose Columbus Day are both Indigenous and quite educated on Columbus’ legacy. I have to ask, are Indigenous people the ones who are political colonizers? Because the debate surrounding Columbus Day should have Indigenous people at the center — this conclusion is the only one reasonable to me. Otherwise, the author simply decided to leave Indigenous people out of the conversation. I’m not sure which is worse: calling Indigenous people colonizers or leaving us out of the conversation entirely.

Before I start analyzing some of the column, here is some advice: Do not use the word “Indian” when describing the Indigenous people that Columbus encountered. They were not Indians; that label was forced upon them by a man who could not accept that he was wrong. They were distinct nations, and to call them all Indians would be as foolish as labeling German, French and Spanish people Australian.

A few excerpts stuck out to me while reading the column. The first being, “Before denying the allegation, ask yourself honestly who the most overtly reviled group in America is. Certainly a number of minorities pop into one’s head as possible answers, but none of them in popular culture would be described, without backlash and rebuke, as backwards, provincial, even savagely simple-minded.” The author clearly evokes the image of the “simple savage,” something colonial powers used to justify their theft of the land all around the world. But I have to ask again, how is the response to Trump’s base, who literally have the backing of the United States government, the same to a colonial power’s propaganda against a people they seek to murder and subjugate? I would argue that what you are describing is simply holding Trump voters accountable for their words and actions. That is in no way “Cultural Colonialism” and is not in the same stratosphere as actual colonialism.

The second excerpt reads, “Every year there are more offenses added to the list of prohibited words, more atrocities we label the modern white man responsible for, more guilt we demand they feel about who they are, how they think and the way they live.” These “new” naughty words or increased calls for accountability are simply marginalized groups wanting to be respected as human beings. I guarantee they have always had problems with those words or phrases — you’re just finally hearing about it. If the idea of not being able to celebrate a genocide is an offense to white people, maybe white people should examine what they are desperate to protect. Finding new atrocities committed is just history revealing itself. As we learn more about how colonial powers gained and maintained their power, you’re going to find out that it was filled with horrific atrocities. The history of these atrocities has always existed in the victim’s communities; again, it’s only recently they have been considered legitimate. These accounts aren’t new inventions by liberals to create white guilt. I would say anyone against learning more about how global powers were built fears the possibility of finding he or she doesn’t deserve such privilege.

Finally, the author makes a point I’ve literally only heard to justify genocide of Indigenous people. This point is that “people are all too willing to ignore the brutal cruelties and murderous habits of certain Indian tribes, opting instead to whitewash them in order to unilaterally sanctify them.” I’ve never understood why mentioning that Indigenous tribes warred with one another is a counterargument to those same Indigenous people asking for respect and justice. Yes, tribal nations went to war with each other. So? Does that in any way excuse Columbus’ favorite practice of cutting off hands or siccing dogs on Indigenous people? Or the United States’ genocide of Natives? How does mentioning previous wars between nations provide any counterargument to anti-Columbus advocates in any way? If you actually spoke to Indigenous people, you would find we are well aware of our pasts. As a Lakota person, I take great pride that my ancestors were great warriors. I am proud that my relatives killed George Custer and the 7th Cavalry at the Battle of the Greasy Grass. I’m quite proud of my Oglala relatives for winning the Grattan Fight. Liberals may whitewash it, but what they do shouldn’t matter when it comes to the debate about Columbus. Being warriors does not justify genocide.

These are just a few examples of where the author misstepped. When I read through the article, I found there were a few things in every paragraph. But, due to the limited space, I won’t get into them here. I do agree on one point made in the piece, which is that Columbus’ historical role is “a poorly informed yet often debated topic around this time of year.” I believe that is truly reflected in this article. BridgeND is meant to be a club that works to “bridge the partisan divide.” I do not think this can be truly accomplished unless both sides are presented accurately. In “Cultural Colonialism,” I felt in the author’s effort to present Trump voters more fairly presents an inaccurate picture of both the Indigenous and left-wing (I would also argue humane) argument against Columbus Day. In the future, I hope the author takes more time to analyze the dynamics of the Columbus Day debate before tying it into a much larger debate.

Mikey Boyd (Sicangu Oyate)


Oct. 16

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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