Posted on October 01 2018
This Article came about the same way as my post about Labor Day, from the curiosity of my co-workers. (Can I call this an article? Does this count? It just sounds so fancy. Like, move over NY Times, Leather & Cotton has articles now!) Except, this time I had to actually dive into some history, because this is a fairly new holiday. Well, the day hasn’t changed, the history hasn’t changed but, who we’re celebrating is very different.
As you probably know, in the past this was known as Columbus Day. You know that day the banks are closed, but you still have to go to work/school. All to celebrate Christopher Columbus, the dude that “discovered” the Americas. You remember the poem right? 1492 Columbus Sailed the ocean blue” and then murdered and manipulated and stole from a bunch of people. Yeah, spoiler, turns out Columbus wasn’t a great guy. And yet we’ve celebrated him every year since 1937. (If you were living during the Great Depression AND Amelia Earhart went missing, you’d be willing to celebrate anything right?)
In the early 90’s the people of America started to wise up to the fact that we were literally celebrating a delusional murderer, so some cities began celebrating Indigenous Peoples Day, (or Native American Day as it’s known in some places). In the mid 2010s the holiday began to pick up traction and is now observed by almost every state in addition to Columbus Day. As of this year five states (Alaska, California, Hawaii, Oregon, and South Dakota) solely celebrate Indigenous Peoples Day. Whoo go progress! So, now we know what places celebrate this holiday, but what exactly is it?
As you’ve probably gathered this holiday celebrates the Indigenous Peoples of America, also known as the pre-Columbian Americans and their decedents. This is a day to celebrate the true founders of our beautiful country. This is a celebration of many different tribes and groups of people who have faced endless racism, hatred, and displacement and the many traditions that have nearly, if not completely erased from our history.
This is a day to celebrate the true founders of our beautiful country.
I must admit, when it came to the achievements and contributions of Indigenous People to America I knew very little (thanks common core education!), but what I’ve learned has come to amaze me. There are 56 known languages among Indigenous peoples in North America. The impact of the agricultural endowment to the world by many Native American people is a testament to their time and work in reshaping and cultivating the flora indigenous to the Americas. I mean, you remember the story of the pilgrims not being able to grow corn until the Native Americans helped bury fish under the crops and the next year it was like corns a plenty??? Think of that but on a major national scale!!
So, it turns out that the Indigenous People of America domesticated, bred and cultivated a large array of plant species. These species now constitute 50–60% of all crops in cultivation worldwide. Can you believe that?? That’s like over half of the plants in this country!! Genetic testing of the wide variety of plants suggests that the potato has a single origin in the area of southern Peru. Over 99% of all modern cultivated potatoes worldwide are descendants of a subspecies indigenous to north and south Americas. Can you believe that?? Potatoes! Boil em, mash em, throw em in a stew?? Potatoes!
Also, Farming! Native Americans began farming approximately 4,000 years ago, and they used fire to intentionally burn their vegetation so that crops would grow bigger and healthier. As well as domesticating and raising cows, sheep, goats, pigs, horses, and dogs. Seriously, without this technological development American Agriculture would look very different today.
The amazing contributions made by Indigenous people doesn’t end with pre-colonial history though. Many tribes in North and South America were using syringes, baby bottles, and disease curing medications before these things were “officially” invented.
Left: Ancient baby bottle made from clay discovered in North America. Right: ancient bone sewing needles used by Native Americans
After many Native Americans were displaced during European settlement, the Trail of Tears, American Expansion, and removal and reeducation programs. Tribes found themselves shattered and their traditions being erased. Significant achievements have been made in the late 20th century and 21st century with the dependents of Indigenous peoples speaking out and fighting for recognition. In the USA alone 560 tribes are now recognized nationally. Text books have begun to teach the history of the Indigenous Peoples, media has started to represent well rounded indigenous characters positively. Census numbers show millions of people involved in tribes across America.
A big focus of the holiday lies in recognizing that there is a very violent side of American colonization and expansion, and to remember the nearly 10 million people that lived here before the arrival of Europeans
The most important part of this holiday though, is to recognize that the Native American people and tribes that we are celebrating are not just distant history. We need to stop thinking of Native Americans as people who lived in the past, and celebrate the many bands of living people who continue to practice their cultures today