For the first time in United States history, at least nine cities opted to observe Indigenous Peoples’ Day yesterday instead of Columbus Day; the newer holiday an intended corrective to the 78-year-old national holiday that honors the Italian explorer often credited with “discovering” the Americas in 1492.
Of course, when Christopher Columbus arrived in the Caribbean in 1492, he found lands already populated — a fact many have long alluded to in explaining their opposition to Columbus Day. But in the last two years, opposition to the holiday has not only grown (e.g. the nine cities celebrating Indigenous Peoples’ Day) but has become almost mainstream (e.g. this now ubiquitous comic from The Oatmeal and tweets like this).
I think support for Indigenous Peoples’ Day is an important statement in what may possibly be the most racist month in the United States (Halloween, at the end of the month, provides its own smorgasbord of racism, as people make bad costume choices like dressing up as "sexy Indians" or strict-looking Catholic nuns). Racism, after all, is not simply the overt hatred of minorities. Racism includes the institutional structures that keep minorities from being equal players in our society. Certainly included in this definition would be the belittling minority cultures and their trauma by glorifying their enslavement and genocide with a federal holiday. Why not, instead, honor those people themselves?
For centuries, the Catholic church was tied up in this systematic abuse of indigenous peoples. In fact, the 15th century Doctrine of Discovery was the church’s way of sanctioning men like Christopher Columbus who claimed “discovered” lands for European monarchies. In many ways the church has distanced itself from this specific form of racism (though some would claim that last month’s canonization of Junípero Serro was a step in the wrong direction), but I’m sure I’m shocking no one here when I say that some of those at the forefront on starting a trajectory of reconciliation with indigenous peoples are women religious.
The Leadership Conference of Women Religious notably passing a resolution last year that asked Pope Francis to revoke the Doctrine of Discovery, mentioning in the document that indigenous peoples still suffer from the effects of the doctrine. And every day, Global Sisters Report publishes stories and columns from and about sisters who have developed ministries of empathizing with marginalized peoples.
Sisters are human, of course, so I don’t mean to suggest that they have expertly and perfectly solved racism. In fact, as I found out earlier this year, some communities still struggle with racial reconciliation and the idea of things like white privilege. However, broadly speaking, I think the kind of empathy sisters cultivate by being with people is the kind of relationship building that will give teeth to movements like Indigenous Peoples’ Day and (I can’t believe I have to say this) non-racist Halloween.
So I hope you all had a happy Indigenous Peoples’ Day, and if you’re a sister, I pray for your strength and courage as you continue in your ministries of reconciliation.
[Dawn Cherie Araujo is Global Sisters Report staff writer, based in Kansas City, Missouri. Follow her on Twitter @dawn_cherie]