In recent years, Columbus Day has become the object of considerable scorn on account of Christopher Columbus’s alleged racism and, more broadly, a belief that European contact with North America was a net negative—a terrible mistake for which Americans of European descent should feel guilt. Well-researched books and articles have vindicated Christopher Columbus and the expansion of Western civilization with which he is rightly associated.1 These vindications have been compelling and persuasive.2 Yet, even still, the tide of popular anti-Columbus sentiment seems irreversible. In place of Columbus Day, many locales throughout the United States now celebrate “Indigenous Peoples’ Day.” Indeed, Indigenous Peoples’ Day is listed beside Columbus Day on standard printed calendars and date books, even in the iPhone calendar app.
But what does indigenousness mean, and why do so many celebrate it? Merriam-Webster defines it as: “produced, growing, living, or occurring natively or naturally in a particular region or environment.” But the way the term is commonly used is not so clear, particularly in relation to so-called Native Americans. “Native” Americans, according to much contemporary scholarship and genealogy, migrated to North America from Asia.3 If they are indigenous to North America because they have been here for a long time, then couldn’t the erstwhile Europeans in North America, or at least their descendants, claim to be indigenous as well? Why would anyone claim that Americans of English or French ancestry, whose families have inhabited this continent for centuries, are anything other than indigenous to this land where they were born? Do European Americans, unlike their Asiatic, tribal American counterparts, remain indigenous to Europe for all eternity?
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And how far does one’s indigenousness extend, exactly? Is a tribal American with ancestral lands in Nevada indigenous to all of what now comprises the United States? Or is he as nonindigenous to Miami (some 2,171 miles from Las Vegas) as someone newly arrived from the Mexico City (a mere 1,283 miles away)? . . .
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1. See, for instance, Thomas A. Bowden, The Enemies of Christopher Columbus (Cresskill, NJ: Paper Tiger, 2007).
2. See Michael. S. Berliner, “Man’s Best Came with Columbus : Critics Glorify the Primitivism and Collectivism of the American Indian. In Fact, Life Was Nasty, Brutish and Short,” Los Angeles Times, December 30, 1991, https://www.latimes.com/archives/la-xpm-1991-12-30-me-847-story.html.
3. See Simon Worall, “When, How Did the First Americans Arrive? It’s Complicated,” National Geographic, June 9, 2018, https://www.nationalgeographic.com/science/article/when-and-how-did-the-first-americans-arrive--its-complicated-; “Native American Populations Descend from Three Key Migrations,” University College London, July 12, 2012, https://www.ucl.ac.uk/news/2012/jul/native-american-populations-descend-three-key-migrations.
4. “Indigenous Peoples Day,” Unitarian Universalist Association, https://www.uua.org/racial-justice/dod/indigenous-day (accessed October 7, 2021).
5. See George Franklin Feldman, Cannibalism, Headhunting and Human Sacrifice in North America: A History Forgotten (Chambersburg, PA: Alan C. Hood & Co., 2008).
6. “North American Indian Languages,” Encyclopedia Britannica, https://www.britannica.com/topic/North-American-Indian-languages (accessed October 7, 2021).
7. “Native Americans and Slavery,” Encyclopedia.com, https://www.encyclopedia.com/humanities/applied-and-social-sciences-magazines/native-americans-and-slavery (accessed October 7, 2021).
8. Almon Wheeler Lauber, Indian Slavery in Colonial Times within the Present Limits of the United States (New York: Columbia University Press, 1913), 28–29, https://archive.org/details/indianslaveryinc54laubuoft/page/28/mode/2up.
9. Emma Lazarus, “The New Colossus,” November 2, 1883, https://www.nps.gov/stli/learn/historyculture/colossus.htm.