PAT NEAL: What day is it, anyway?

HOW WAS YOUR Indigenous Peoples Day?

Formerly known as Columbus Day, the Port Angeles City Council voted to recognize Indigenous Peoples Day on the second Monday in October, “to promote tolerance, understanding and friendship and to combat prejudice and eliminate discrimination stemming from colonization.”

According to a PDN article, the Port Angeles City Council approved a proclamation that recognizes the “systemic racism” toward Native Americans and trumpets the “valuable contributions” that the Klallam people have made to Port Angeles.

The apparent replacement of Columbus Day with Indigenous Peoples Day follows the actions of other cities and states across our nation that celebrate the people who first called this land home instead of the man who began the centuries of suffering inflicted upon them.

Columbus Day was always kind of an obscure holiday that only applied to government workers, anyway.

It did not provide our consumer-based society an excuse to spend money like we do at Christmas or Halloween.

There are no Columbus Day cards.

Columbus Day has few holiday traditions.

There is no tree to cut or presents to wrap.

It was not a good excuse to get drunk like on Saint Patrick’s Day, Cinco de Mayo or Arbor Day.

The fact is that Christopher Columbus has been taking a beating lately.

It turns out he was the last not the first to discover the Americas.

Historians have long argued the Phoenicians or Egyptians might have sailed here first but they left no records.

The Irish monk Saint Brenden might have sailed here in the Sixth century.

Then there was Leif Eriksson and his band of Vikings. They beat Columbus to the New World by 500 years.

The Chinese might have beaten Columbus by 70 years.

What makes Columbus’ claim to discovering America even more unsettling is the fact that he landed in the Bahamas, thinking he discovered a route to India.

Columbus called the people he met Indians, a name that has stuck ever since.

They welcomed Columbus with abundant food and warm hospitality. They were rewarded with slavery, disease and continental genocide.

The story of Columbus reads like a comedy of human errors.

Needing money for another Crusade to the Holy Land, Columbus went looking for the Orient, where it was said the spices grew and gold was plentiful enough for the natives to pave roads and roof their houses with it.

He assumed these Oriental potentates would trade their treasure for baubles and hawk’s bells as soon as they were baptized.

Columbus didn’t find much of the gold he promised Queen Isabella, who had financed his voyage of discovery.

Instead, he brought back a treasure that was to prove deadlier and of greater value than all the gold in the New World — tobacco.

The Natives of Cuba rolled up the leaves of this plant and smoked it. Europeans soon acquired this habit.

Columbus did not profit from his discoveries.

He was eventually delivered back to Spain in chains in the brig of a ship.

Although acquitted of the charges against him, Columbus lived out his arthritic life ignored by the royal court.

It was said Isabella did not approve of enslaving the “Natives” but if Columbus didn’t, the Portuguese, French and Dutch were right behind him.

They were soon followed by the British, whose imperial conquests were an epic of human savagery.

They all paled in comparison with the casualties inflicted with more deadly and terrifying modern technology during the wars of the 20th century.

Let’s have an Indigenous Peoples Day but keep Columbus Day to remember who we are.

I think it’s the least we can do.

Then again, those who ignore history are normal.

_________

Pat Neal is a Hoh River fishing guide and “wilderness gossip columnist” whose column appears here every Wednesday.

He can be reached at 360-683-9867 or by email via patneal [email protected]

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