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  • Writer's pictureThe Church for the Fellowship of All Peoples

October 11, 2020 | Message from Dr. Blake

Indigenous Peoples Day Message Grandfather, Look at our brokenness. We know that in all creation Only the human family Has strayed from the Sacred Way. We know that we are the ones Who are divided And we are the ones Who must come back together To walk in the Sacred Way. Grandfather, Sacred One, Teach us love, compassion, and honor That we may heal the earth And heal each other. — Ojibway prayer

Tomorrow is Indigenous Peoples or Native American Heritage Day.  In many places it is still known as Columbus Day. In 1868, San Francisco became the first city in this nation to celebrate Columbus Day.  It originated as a time to celebrate the life and exploits of Christopher Columbus and his “discovery of America.” The day was made a national holiday in 1971. The celebration was based upon erroneous and suppressed history of the encounters of Columbus and the people he named “Indians.” They were called Indians because he mistakenly thought he had landed in India. Lost in terms of direction and soul, he carried out a reign of evil – murder, enslavement, sexual assault, and intentionally infecting the native population with diseases. When the extent of the assault on the existing population was excavated, many protested and argued for re-naming the day Indigenous Peoples Day or Native American Heritage Day to focus on the historical realities of America’s native peoples.  Columbus had no sense of moral obligation to treat his new neighbors with human kindness, humility, respect, and certainly not equality. Their generosity was determined to be a weakness, their openness an invitation to manipulation and victimization. The great historian, Howard Zinn, wrote: Arawak men and women, naked, tawny, and full of wonder, emerged from their villages onto the island's beaches and swam out to get a closer look at the strange big boat. When Columbus and his sailors came ashore, carrying swords, speaking oddly, the Arawaks ran to greet them, brought them food, water, gifts. He (Columbus) would describe the initial encounter in the following way: “They ... brought us parrots and balls of cotton and spears and many other things, which they exchanged for the glass beads and hawks' bells. They willingly traded everything they owned…. They were well-built, with good bodies and handsome features.... They do not bear arms, and do not know them, for I showed them a sword, they took it by the edge and cut themselves out of ignorance. They have no iron. Their spears are made of cane…. They would make fine servants.... With fifty men we could subjugate them all and make them do whatever we want.” Zinn continues to quote from Columbus’ log: “As soon as I arrived in the Indies, on the first Island which I found, I took some of the natives by force in order that they might learn and might give me information of whatever there is in these parts.” The information that Columbus wanted was the location of the gold, which in Europe was becoming more valuable than land in terms of purchasing power. The queen and king of Spain wanted gold and spices and promised to reward Columbus with 10% of the profits and governorship over new lands that he “discovered.” In addition, he would be given a new title: Admiral of the Ocean Sea which was quite an elevation of status to this merchant clerk from the Italian city of Genoa and son of a weaver. He promised to bring them on his next voyage “as much gold as they need and as many slaves as they ask….  Thus, the eternal God, our Lord, gives victory to those who follow His way over apparent impossibilities.” Zinn continues: In the year 1495, they went on a great slave raid, rounded up fifteen hundred Arawak men, women, and children, put them in pens guarded by Spaniards and dogs, then picked the five hundred best specimens to load onto ships. Of those five hundred, two hundred died en route. The rest arrived alive in Spain and were put up for sale by the archdeacon of the town, who reported that, although the slaves were "naked as the day they were born, they showed no more embarrassment than animals." Columbus later wrote: "Let us in the name of the Holy Trinity go on sending all the slaves that can be sold." The Indians were given quotas of gold to bring to Columbus.  When they did not meet their quotas, their hands were cut off leaving them to bleed to death. What I have been describing happened in the Caribbean.  Yet, similar things happened on the mainland. The native population of the mainland was very much like that of the Arawaks of the Bahamas. They too were known for their hospitality, sharing, sense of interdependence, and respect for all of creation and its creatures. This contrasted greatly with the way of life characteristic of Europe, dominated as it was by the religion of popes, the government of kings, the frenzy for money that marked Western civilization and its first messenger to the Americas, Christopher Columbus (Zinn).

In the chapter, “The Search for Identity,“ in his remarkable book, The Search for Common Ground, Dr. Howard Thurman expressed his deep disappointment with and indictment of American leaders for refusing community and choosing alienation and separation regarding peoples sharing the physical ground of existence. This denial of shared belonging to marginalized populations created within those communities a sense of the environment closing in upon them. How devasting this was for the Native community for whom the environment was intimate, expansive, and a relative. The American Indian is the only indigenous people within the confines of American sovereignty. The merciless and ruthless attack on the ground of community in the life of the American Indian is completely amoral: To uproot him from territory that gave him a rare sense of belonging, in which he could actualize his potential within a frame of reference that was totally confirming, and at the same time to keep him in full or relative view of his devastated and desecrated extension of self that the land signified is a unique form of torture, a long, slow, anguished dying. The original insider is forced to become an outsider in his own territory. There are some things in life that are worse than death – surely this must be judged as such. The Indian wanders homeless and rootless as a fleeting ghost in and out of our dreams and like Banquo, is an invisible guest at both our times of feasting and our times of prayer. An unconscious guilt has entered namelessly into the very fiber of the American character and there is no catharsis to be found.  Every time in our sovereign power we champion the cause of those who are uprooted in their own land and are forced to watch their souls wither and die without communal nourishment, there he stands in full view before our spirits while our words falter and our claim to challenge falls limp at our feet.

Vine Deloria, Jr., was a Native American author, theologian, historian, lawyer, and activist who wrote the substantive book Custer Died for Your Sins: An Indian Manifesto. It is a noteworthy chronicle of issues and causes related to the Native American experience. Hear his thoughts in this brief portion of an interview.

Listen again as Deloria offers uncommon, penetrating, and incisive insights into our relation to the unseen. 

The disrespect continues even in an area as liberal, sensitive, and progressive as the San Francisco Bay Area. Yet, every Black Friday, Ohlone descendants and supporters gather at Shellmound Memorial Park to protest what they perceive as desecration of sacred Indian burial grounds.

Everything is laid out for you. Your path is straight ahead of you. Sometimes it’s invisible but it’s there You may not know where it’s going, But you have to follow the path. It’s the path to the Creator. It’s the only path there is.         - Chief Leon Shenandoah

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