A few blocks from where I live, the annual “Columbus Day Parade” is about to disrupt traffic along 5th Avenue from 44th Street up to 79th Street, but I won’t be joining in this celebration. Like most school children in the U.S., I was fed the lie that Christopher Columbus was “an explorer” who “discovered America.” The local news stations here relentlessly refer to the parade as a “celebration of Italian heritage.” In fact, this is a holiday that disguises more than 500 years of church-sanctioned atrocities against indigenous peoples as well as the on-going, present-day racism against Native Americans.
While many of those who celebrate this holiday will participate in a Columbus Day Mass at St. Patrick’s Cathedral along the parade route (50th Street/Fifth Avenue), many others will protest the church’s participation in genocide. In fact, for the past dozen years, there has been an ongoing counter-protest, an Annual Papal Bulls Burning. At the Parliament of World Religions in 1993, over sixty indigenous delegates drafted a Declaration of Vision, which was originally “endorsed by resolution in a near unanimous vote” of the Parliament (Taliman 1994). It reads, in part:
We call upon the people of conscience in the Roman Catholic hierarchy to persuade Pope John II to formally revoke the Inter Cetera Bull of May 4, 1493, which will restore our fundamental human rights. That Papal document called for our Nations and Peoples to be subjugated so the Christian Empire nd its doctrines would be propagated. The U.S. Supreme Court ruling Johnson v. McIntosh 8 Wheat 543 (in 1823) adopted the same principle of subjugation expressed in the Inter Caetera bull. This Papal Bull has been, and continues to be, devastating to our religions, our cultures, and the survival of our populations.
Many indigenous peoples around the world have, since the Columbus Quincentennial in 1992, have reclaimed October 12th as International Indigenous Peoples’ Day (h/t @DinkyShop via Twitter) with celebrations and protests, with a particular focus on pressuring the Catholic Church to rescind the papal edicts (known as “bulls”), that sanctioned the genocidal practices of “explorers” like Christopher Columbus. Here is one account from Hawai’i:
Twelve years ago, Tony Castanha, a Boricua (Puerto Rican) in Hawai’i who was reconnecting with his Taino ancestry, began commemorating the day with a ceremonial burning of the 1493 Papal Bull Inter Caetera. The Papal Bull was the holy decree which gave Columbus the Church’s blessing and authorization to “establish Christian dominion over the globe and called for the subjugation of non-Christian peoples and seizure of their lands.” This racist law became one of the foundations of the Christian Doctrine of Discovery and many laws authorizing the taking of native peoples’ land.
In a small sign of progress, the Episcopal Church recently passed a landmark resolution entitled “Repudiate the Doctrine of Discovery.” As of yet, there’s been no response from the Catholic Church on this global movement of indigenous peoples.
The myth of “discovery” that’s woven into the celebration of Christopher Columbus as a mythic hero also serves to cover up the on-going, present-day racism against Native Americans. In a terrific piece on “Native Americans Long Battle Against Racism,” at Global Voices Online (well worth reading in its entirety), Bernardo Parrella writes about the fact that even though there are almost 2.5 million Native Americans live in USA (0.87% of total US population), this group is largely “forgotten or invisible to the vast majority of Americans.” There are lots of resources in Parrella’s post if you decide to educate yourself about racism against Native Americans. He also includes ways that Native Americans are using online citizen media to fight racism and stereotypes. Just one example of these is a video called, “Racism The Way We See It” (7:50) statement about how young Native Americans experience racism within their own community: