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Expert Commentary on Indigenous Peoples’ Day
As cities around the country debate whether the second Monday of October should be Columbus Day or Indigenous Peoples Day, Syracuse University Associate Professor and Chair of the Department of Religion Phil Arnold offers expert commentary on the issue.
“We know that our national holidays are full of symbolism. The question about Columbus Day for the academic study of religion is, what does he symbolize? Why Columbus? He was never in the US, probably did not understand that he was in a territory previously unknown to Europe,” said Arnold who specializes in the study of Native American culture and religion. “According to Bartolome de las Casas (who preserved his diary from the first voyage), he committed atrocious acts of cruelty such as kidnapping, rape, and torture. Not a nice guy.”
“What does he symbolize? Conquest and destruction of Indigenous traditions and their lands. The Doctrine of Christian Discovery was the mandate under which he was sailing. This was enacted by a series of Popes in the 15th century for Christian explorers to seize lands, property and bodies of non-Christians in African and the Americas. This was the origin of the trans-Atlantic slave trade and destruction of Native American peoples,” said Arnold.
“The move away from Columbus Day to Indigenous Peoples Day is a symbolic shift in our National memory. It is much more than political correctness. It moves away from the values of colonialism and conquest toward the values and legacy of about 100 million Indigenous Peoples in North, Central and South American, who had lived here in harmony with the natural world for millennia before Europeans.”
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